Community Education Police & Fire

Victim’s attorney says ‘red flags’ should have pointed toward teacher charged with molestation

Posted on April 23rd, 2024 By:

Peninsula School District Superintendent Krestin Bahr on Friday sent a letter to families responding to prosecutors charging Evergreen Elementary School teacher Jordan Roy Henderson with first-degree child molestation. In it, she reaffirmed the district’s commitment to safety and offered a link to resources for children and families.

“I am committed to being an advocate for these impacted families and for all our families,” she said. “These types of activities should never happen in our schools or in any school. As our community navigates this situation, we must all keep the safety and well-being of our students at the forefront of our thoughts and actions.”

Henderson posted $100,000 bail set by the court and is on house arrest at his Gig Harbor home.

Status of the case

Peninsula School District placed Henderson, 34, on administrative leave on Feb. 26. The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office launched an investigation after a student reported an incident of alleged abuse in mid-February.

Deputies arrested Henderson on April 18 and prosecutors charged him Friday with nine counts of first-degree child molestation. Court documents show that several students allege that Henderson touched them on the buttocks, thighs, chest and “privates.”

Henderson’s defense attorney Brett Purtzer with Hester Law Group said his firm is gathering information about the case. Henderson, a teacher at Evergreen since at least 2018-19, has no criminal history in Washington state, according to court documents.

Courts issued protection orders for three student survivors of the alleged assaults, barring Henderson from any contact or attempted contact.

Suspect denies allegations

“He’s steadfast in his denial of any type of inappropriate conduct with any of these children,” Purtzer said.

Speaking in general, he added, “Anytime you have an allegation like this, it’s frightening for the person who is accused and his or her family and all the people that care for him. And so, you take it extremely seriously.”

Under house arrest, Henderson may only leave his home for court dates and necessary business, such as doctor’s appointments. He may not attend his church, according to Purtzer.

Henderson is a deacon at Wellspring Fellowship church in Lakebay. His father, Lead Pastor Chris Henderson, issued a statement on Facebook on the day of the arrest. The statement testified to Henderson’s character and said: “He and his family have the full confidence and support of our church.”

Henderson may have contact with his biological children, according to the court order. Purtzer said his client had two foster children in the past but they have returned to their families.

Henderson’s trial is set for June 10 but is likely to be delayed into the fall, according to Purtzer.

‘Red flags to be seen’

An attorney for one survivor of the alleged assaults said other adults could have or should have noticed signs indicating Henderson groomed and targeted students.

“There’s some preliminary evidence that there were red flags to be seen,” said Kevin Hastings of Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala Attorneys at Law.

Signs would have included giving certain students preferential treatment — for example, as Hastings has heard, allowing small groups of students to eat lunch in his classroom. According to court documents, one student told investigators she considered Henderson a “friend” because he “let them run around the room, watch movies and eat popcorn.”

The same student reported inappropriate touching by Henderson that began during the previous school year, when she was in fourth grade, and continued into this school year.

“So, we know that Jordan Henderson is alleged to have been involved in sexually assaulting at least one individual over the course of two school years,” Hastings said. “And based on my experience handling these types of cases, there was evidence to be seen of grooming, inappropriate actions, of targeting.”

Children who are victims of inappropriate touching may not understand the inappropriateness of it, Hastings said. But the trauma can impact them for life unless they receive early support. His firm directs clients to resources for all family members.

School counselors standing by

Bahr, in her letter to families, encouraged anyone impacted by allegations against Henderson to seek support.

“This news may leave many of you with additional questions and/or uncomfortable emotions,” she said. “I want to remind you that our school counselors are standing by to provide advice and listen to your concerns. In addition, your child may want to talk to you about their feelings as well. Talking about their feelings may be a great help for your child to handle this news.”

Bahr also referred families to the Committee for Children a portion of whose website has resources for protecting children from sexual abuse.

Sex offender traits

According to the Committee for Children website, children knew their abuser in 90 percent of child sexual abuse cases.

Offenders typically build a trusting relationship with victims that allows them to initiate abuse, the website states. Grooming tactics may include giving them gifts, giving them special attention or allowing them to do things they aren’t usually allowed to do.

Offenders often take advantage of their victim’s trust by telling them to keep the abuse “secret” or by threatening them if they tell.

Offenders also “groom” the adults surrounding a child, including family members, according to the website. They may build trust by being friendly and offering favors such as giving rides to and from school.

Recognizing signs of abuse

According to the Committee for Children, Signs of sexual abuse in a child may include (among others):

  • Sudden changes in behavior
  • Acting younger than their age (regression)
  • Sudden unexplained fears of certain places or people
  • Fear of being touched
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Evidence of trauma to the genital area
  • Behavior or statements not in line with age-appropriate sexual development

The Committee for Children offers a toolkit for parents to help them learn about child sexual abuse, how to talk with their children about it, how to report it and where to get help for healing.

“I want to assure you that the safety and well-being of our students is our top priority and the foundation upon which our schools operate,” Bahr said. “As this situation continues to evolve, we will update our community as appropriate.”

Bahr said anyone can contact her directly at [email protected]. Anyone with information on the case can contact Detective Brendon Ossman at the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office at (253) 798-4876.