LAURENS, S.C. – A former middle school teacher was sent to prison for six years Tuesday for having sexual encounters with five teenage boys.
Authorities said Allenna Ward, 24, met 14- and 15-year-old boys at the school where she taught as well as at a motel, a park and behind a restaurant.
"I apologize from the depths of my heart," Ward said in court.
Police began investigating last year after school officials found a note believed to have been written by Ward to one of the boys. Some of the victims were students at Bell Street Middle School in Clinton, where Ward taught. She was fired about a year ago.
Ward pleaded guilty in September to three counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor and three lewd acts on a minor.
Forensic psychiatrist Donna Schwartz-Watts said Ward is not a pedophile, but rather a childlike victim suffering from personality disorders and a repressed childhood. Schwartz-Watts said the minister's daughter lived a sheltered life but really was a "free spirit" who never got a chance to break away from her family.
Prosecutors painted Ward's crimes in a harsher light and said she violated the trust that parents place in teachers.
Some of the victims' families attended the sentencing but did not speak during the court hearing.
"I just feel like justice has been served," the sister of one victim said after the hearing. "We're just glad that it's all over."
The Associated Press does not normally identify victims of sexual crimes.
Ward's lawyer Donald Hocker cited the psychiatric testimony in asking for home imprisonment for his client. Hocker said Ward will be vulnerable to physical and emotional abuse at the hands of other prisoners.
"It's an awful case with awful consequences, but Allenna Ward is not an awful woman," Hocker said in court. He declined to speak to a reporter after the hearing.
Ward was sentenced to 15 years in prison for each lewd act count, but the punishments were suspended to six years. She also was sentenced to six years on each second-degree criminal sexual conduct count. The sentences are to run concurrently.