Teacher from Springdale accused of tryst with teenager in Maryland

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Finding a job as an English teacher in Frostburg, Md., was a dream come true for Autumn Leathers, a Springdale native and 2007 graduate of Slippery Rock University.

But that dream slipped away last week when police charged Ms. Leathers, 24, with having a months-long sexual relationship with a student that began when he was 15 years old.

Police would not disclose what evidence they have beyond the allegations made by the student, who is now 16, but investigators have executed search warrants at Ms. Leathers' apartment and her work space at Mountain Ridge High School. They have confiscated some material they believe will help make their case.

Ms. Leathers was freed from jail Aug. 21 -- the day after her arrest -- on a $10,000 percentage bond and has returned to her parents' home in Springdale to await her Sept. 19 preliminary hearing on charges of child abuse, sex abuse of a minor, perverted practice, assault and sex offense.

George V. McKinley, Ms. Leathers' lawyer, said he has not outright asked his client if she had a sexual relationship with the teen. However, he defended her integrity and said, "I have no support for that other than the alleged statement of the young man."

Mr. McKinley allowed that the boy "may have been in her apartment at least on one occasion." He could not explain why a student would be alone at Ms. Leathers' apartment.

Ms. Leathers is suspended without pay from her $39,000 job as a 10th-grade English teacher.

The arrest -- five days before Ms. Leathers was to start her second year at the school -- has brought her from high to low.

"Her father said to me, 'This was our dream for our child.' She got a great career, she's in a nice little community, she's in a school where they like her, she's teaching at the highest level at the school," Mr. McKinley said.

Now, he said, "Her life's falling apart."

The case broke when a person police described only as a "citizen" contacted a task force in Allegany County, Md., called Combined County Criminal Investigation and the local Child Protective Services agency to allege an improper relationship between student and teacher.

Police were told that the student had been seen at Ms. Leathers' home late at night.

Sgt. Charles Goldstrom, the task force's administrative supervisor, could not say how many times the teen was spotted there or at what hours.

The student told police that he and Ms. Leathers had started a sexual relationship in May and had trysts at her apartment throughout the summer.

The boy's mother could not be reached for comment. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette does not name accusers in sexual assault cases.

Investigators are exploring whether there might be other victims, something Mr. McKinley vehemently denies.

"They have whole-cloth made up this idea that she's been with groups of young men. That story has nothing behind it," he said.

Mr. McKinley said Ms. Leathers' landlady and the juvenile's mother, who lives in the neighborhood, showed up at her house together last week and found the boy there.

"They're dressed, they're appropriate. No one ever said they weren't. No one every said they were disheveled," Mr. McKinley said.

Mr. McKinley described his client in glowing terms, saying she was poised, decent and eager to return to teaching. However, he said, she is also distraught.

Jonathan D. Silver can be reached at jsilver@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1962.


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