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DIGGING DEEPER: Victim of sexual misconduct told school about teacher’s past

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) – A woman who was molested as a 14-year-old tells ABC21 she advised an East Allen County school last year that they employed the person who did it.

The notification happened at the start of the 2018-19 school year — a full year before Josiah Pfenning left the teaching staff of Heritage Junior/Senior High School amid allegations of misconduct.

ABC21 twice spoke with someone at Pfenning’s home requesting an interview, but was turned away both times. He has not been charged and the reports that were made to Heritage Junior/Senior High School were turned over to the Allen County Sheriff’s Department for investigation.

ABC21 spoke with a woman who alerted officials about concerns regarding a high school teacher. One year after the call, that teacher was accused of misconduct.

The victim in the earlier matter said she contacted the school’s administration when she discovered that Pfenning was serving as the band and choir director. In an exclusive sit-down interview with ABC21’s Kaitlyn Kendall, the woman — now 26 years old — said her goal was to prevent other teens from experiencing what she went through.

It makes me angry,” she said. “Josiah Pfenning should be in my past. He hurt me more than 12 years ago. I’m just tired of it.”

ABC21 is not revealing the woman’s identity due to the nature of the crime.

Pfenning was 18 when published reports show he was convicted in 2007 on a count of sexual misconduct with a minor under the age of 15, a Class D felony.

According to the woman, the two met when Pfenning was a youth worship leader at a church they attended. Pfenning was about four years older than she was.

The relationship was consensual at first, but in a matter of weeks, the woman said that changed.

“I kind of put my foot down and that’s when he kind of forced himself on me,” she recounted. “He was just very intimidating.”

The then-14-year-old’s family contacted police about the sexual encounter, and Pfenning was arrested. Published reports indicate he pleaded guilty to a count of sexual misconduct with a minor and received a two-year sentence — with only six months to be served in jail.

Josiah Pfenning

Pfenning enrolled at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he majored in education.

He completed his degree. At some point in the years that followed his reported plea, all traces of his conviction disappeared from court records.

“I knew that his plan had been to go to college and get a degree in education,” the victim said. “So, when I saw that the conviction was gone, I knew what that meant.”

She explained that she suspected Pfenning was working as a teacher.

The woman called Heritage Junior/Senior High School once she had confirmed it.

“I kind of asked myself what I owe his students, or their parents. I asked myself what I would like to appreciate from someone as a parent. So, I called.”

The woman tells ABC21 she spoke with the school’s principal and was told the information would be shared with the central office. She also said she expected to hear back, and twice followed up with phone calls.

Phone records show the victim in a 2007 case involving Josiah Pfenning contacted Heritage Junior/Senior High School three times between August and October 2018.

Records show calls from the woman’s phone to the main number for Heritage Junior/Senior High School on three dates in 2018. The latter efforts were clocked at approximately one minute and two minutes, each.

The woman said the follow-up calls were short because she never got through to the principal, nor, she said, did she hear from the district itself, via phone call, email or other communication.

ABC21 repeatedly sought an on-camera interview with an EACS representative regarding the matter, reaching out to a district spokeswoman, the school board and the superintendent.

Following a recent news conference regarding statewide test scores, ABC21 asked Superintendent Marilyn Hissong if EACS was aware of the 2007 court case.

“Again, I can’t comment on that. It’s an open investigation,” she said.

On Tuesday (Sept. 10), EACS did provide a response, via an emailed statement. In it, the district acknowledges that it received a report about an employee who was convicted of a crime more than a decade ago and said it “found nothing on the expanded criminal history check that was conducted by a third-party vendor at the time the employee was hired.”

The district said it has recently determined that the individual (who was not named in the statement) “likely had an expunged criminal conviction” and that “it is illegal under Indiana law for an employer to take action against an employee because of an expunged criminal conviction.”

ABC21’s efforts to obtain official documents regarding the 2007 trial also came up empty. However, an online article regarding the case is available at the website of KPC News, a Kendallville-based publisher of several small newspapers in the region.

As of the date of publication of this article, Pfenning maintained an active teaching license.

The Allen County Sheriff’s Department said its investigation into the recent allegations was ongoing.

ABC21 has learned that a protective order involving Pfenning was enacted by an Allen County Superior Court Judge on Sept. 4. It was successfully served on him one day later.

The details of that order, the reason it was entered and the identity of any other party are not part of the public online record.

Allegations against Heritage Junior/Senior H.S. teacher turned over to sheriff’s department
State Dept. of Education ‘aware’ of EACS teacher accused of misconduct

Jonathan Shelley

Jonathan Shelley is the news director at WPTA TV, which he joined in 2016 following nine years in a similar role in New Orleans and previous news management positions in Oklahoma City and Las Vegas.

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