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LA investigators discover 200 more bondage-style photos of children in school abuse case

Mark Berndt

FILE: This undated police booking photo released by the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department shows former Los Angeles teacher Mark Berndt, 61, who was arrested for felony molestation of 23 kids. (AP/Los Angeles Sheriff's Department)

About 200 additional bondage-type pictures of children, allegedly taken by Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt, were discovered Wednesday by authorities investigating child sex abuse by staff at the Los Angeles elementary school.

The images were discovered in a computer at a CVS pharmacy in nearby Redondo Beach, where the photos that initially implicated Berndt were found, police spokesman Dan Scott said, according to KTLA-TV. He said investigators are yet to identify about 25 victims featured in the photos.

Berndt, aged 61 and a 30-year veteran of the school, already faces 23 counts of lewd conduct, including taking photographs as he allegedly blindfolded young children and spoon-fed his semen to them in his classroom.

The alleged offenses, which also included putting cockroaches on the children's faces, took place between 2008 and 2010 and involved students aged from six to 10, police said.

His colleague Martin Springer, 49, faces three felony counts of committing lewd acts upon a child -- for allegedly fondling a female student -- which carries a maximum of 12 years in prison. He has also been accused by a second student.

Scott also said Wednesday that a third Miramonte teacher had been interviewed as part of the probe into the school and "we are satisfied with her answers she's provided us. She is definitely not a suspect. I can't predict what will happen in the future."

A 10-year-old female Miramonte student told KTLA that Berndt regularly asked the woman, who was her teacher, to send students to his classroom to help him. Those students were given cookies that police said contained Berndt's semen.

"I thought that he was just giving me the cookie because I was nice and that I helped," the girl told KTLA, adding that she saw students getting cookies from Berndt almost daily.

It also emerged Wednesday that complaints about a former Miramonte teacher's aide who wrote love-type letters to a pupil, ahead of being relocated to another school, were being reinvestigated in the light of the abuse scandal.

Areceli Luisjuan allegedly wrote to an 11-year-old boy at Miramonte, saying, "When I was writing this letter, I was crying. My heart was breaking into pieces. Oh! I didn't tell you that I like when you put your arm around my shoulder, and if I told you not to do that it's because I don't want to put you in trouble, but I like it…"

She also included the warning, according to the Los Angeles Times, "Read the letter and throw it away. I don't want your mom or brother to find it."

The student's mother said Miramonte and law enforcement authorities did not take her seriously when she reported the incident in 2009. At the time the aide compared her affection for the boy to that of a grandmother for a grandson.

Miramonte will re-open Thursday with an entirely new staff, after a two-day closure. The other members of the 150-strong teaching and administrative staff are not suspected of any crimes.

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