STERLING, Va. (WJLA) - A Loudoun County elementary school art teacher has been arrested on child pornography charges.
Police arrested 43-year-old Ralph Watts Conrad III Tuesday and charged him with a single count of distribution of child pornography and two counts of possession of child pornography.
Conrad has been a Loudoun County Public Schools employee for the past 15 years and most recently was an art teacher at Algonkian Elementary School in Sterling.
Known to many simply as "Watts," Conrad lives in Hamilton in a townhouse surrounded by families and small children. His mother was still in shock by what she had learned about her son.
"He is a good teacher, I have no idea what this is all about," Cheryl Conrad said at her son's home. "I just got word through an email. I have not talked with him. I came out to check if his cats are okay."
Algonkian parents were notified of his arrest via an automated phone call. That response left much to be desired, according to the school's PTA president.
"We're really not happy with the way we found out," PTA President Barbara Fontaine said. "The sheriff's alert went out before any information was forthcoming from our principal and school system."
"We send our kids to school, trust these people that our kids are there with all day, but you just never know...it's scary," said parent Heidi Gracie.
On Thursday night, concerned Algonkian Elementary School parents packed into a meeting with school and law enforcement leaders to discuss the disturbing allegations.
"I would have never dreamed in a hundred years…in my son's school," said parent Kevin Simmons.
Police say that on August 20, they started investigating Conrad based on information received from the Department of Homeland Security. Then, authorities say that on Tuesday, with a warrant in hand, they confiscated a number of items from the 43-year-old’s home in Hamilton – including a computer and a thumb drive.
While there is no evidence to indicate that any local students were victimized, parents are understandably worried, since Conrad taught at the school for about 15 years.
Through his position, he also worked at several other area elementary school -- including Belmont Station Elementary, Lowe’s Island Elementary, Frances Hazel Reid, Legacy Elementary, Mill Run Elementary, and Creighton’s Corner Elementary.
"We were very shocked," said school board member Debbie Rose. At one time, Conrad taught one of her children.
"We don't want people to leap to conclusions that their children were preyed upon here," Loudoun County Schools spokesperson Wayde Byard said. "We are very concerned, but we don't want them to overstate their fears."
Parents directed a lot of pointed questions at police, including how they could let the suspect be around their children for the first week of school, knowing the nature of the allegations.
Police replied by saying they worked as quickly as they could.
Conrad is officially on administrative leave from Loudoun County Public Schools and is currently being held in the Loudoun County Adult Detention Center without bond.
Police said the investigation remains open as they search for more victims and there is the potential for further charges.