SURPRISE, Ariz. – Experts on child exploitation are all too familiar with sex offenders working as scout leaders, coaches and teachers, but this was a new one — a boyish-looking man who posed as a 12-year-old and enrolled in school in what may have been a scheme to find kids to molest.
Now parents in this Phoenix suburb where 29-year-old Neil Havens Rodreick II attended a charter school for four months are asking their children if they had any contact with this "classmate."
And police are interviewing parents, students and teachers, and checking at least three other Arizona schools where Rodreick, a convicted sex offender from Oklahoma, also enrolled.
"We told him that it was a scary man who passed himself off as a kid that went to school for a bit," said Erika Ton Loy, whose 7-year-old son attends the charter school, the Imagine School. "When we heard more about it on the news, we got him up out of bed. My husband wanted to make sure he didn't recognize this guy, and he was like, 'Have you seen this guy?' and he said, 'No, I don't know who the heck he is."'
Rodreick — who is about 5 feet 6 and 120 pounds, shaved his body hair and used makeup in an attempt to cover his stubble — has been charged with forgery and fraud in the school-enrollment con, as well as assault against a girl. But investigators have refused to release details of that crime and will not say whether he met the girl through the school scam.
Officials also said Thursday that a search of the home where he was staying yielded a video of Rodreick engaging in sex acts with an unidentified child.
Using the name Casey Price, Rodreick attended the Imagine School from August to November before the seventh-grader was thrown out for poor attendance. Investigators said he was caught when he attended school for a day last week in Chino Valley, about 90 miles from Phoenix.
On Jan. 9, Rodreick enrolled as Casey Price at YCFA Achieve Academy, a charter school in Prescott Valley, about 75 miles from Phoenix, said Amy Rezzonico, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Education. It was unclear whether he attended school there, and officials at the school declined to comment Thursday.
Rodreick also was enrolled at a charter school as a seventh-grader named Casey Rodreick for a few weeks in 2005 in the community of Payson, about 65 miles from Phoenix.
Rodreick did not provide that school with all the proper paperwork, said Detective George Ratliff of the Gila County Sheriff's Office. Rodreick withdrew after attending nine of the 21 days he was enrolled there when the school persisted in trying to obtain the paperwork.
Ratliff said there is no evidence any children at the Payson school were victimized.
While authorities have not said why Rodreick may have posed as a boy at the schools, officials in Chino Valley said it may have been to lure children for sex.
"Usually sex offenders try to develop a relationship with the children who they are going to attempt to exploit," said Robert Geffner, a psychologist in California who is editor of the Journal of Child Sexual Abuse. "They look for vulnerability, they try to develop a close relationship of trust and dependence with that child. One of best ways to do that is to interact in a safe setting with a child."
Kenneth Lanning, who helped investigate child sex crimes as an agent with the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit for 30 years, said he has never heard of an adult successfully pretending to be a child so young and enrolling in school.
But he said investigators should not be too quick to assume Rodreick sexually assaulted anyone. Rodreick could have had other reasons for posing as a boy, such as fulfilling a sexual need just by being near children, Lanning said.
Rodreick, who is in jail, declined a request for an interview.
He was living in Chino Valley with two men he had conned into believing he was a 12-year-old, authorities said. The two men, ages 43 and 61, were charged with attempted child molestation and attempted sexual contact with a minor.
In 1996, he was convicted in Oklahoma of lewdly propositioning a 6-year-old boy. He served about six years in prison.
Rhonda Cagle, a spokeswoman for the Imagine School, said no students have come forward to accuse Rodreick of molesting them.
Rodreick was an average student who kept to himself and turned in his homework, she said.
"This individual stood out in our pickup line every day right with all of our other students. Parents walked by, students walk by, staff walked by," she said. "There was no questions or concerns by anybody that were ever raised with our administration team here in regards to this individual, so I would certainly say he blended in quite well."
The school did not realize it had been conned until Rodreick was arrested at the Chino Valley school. School officials there said they called police because his birth certificate and other documents looked forged. But at the time, they thought they might be dealing with a child who had been abducted.