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Teacher sentenced for possessing more than 700 sexual abuse pictures and video of children as young as infants

Shawn Christopher Fitzgerald seen here in a mug shot from Sept. 07, 2023.

Shawn Christopher Fitzgerald possessed more than 700 images of child sexual abuse material, authorities said. (Mug shot: Polk County Jail)

A former Florida teacher is going to prison for possessing more than 700 images of child sexual abuse material.

Shawn Christopher Fitzgerald, 49, was sentenced to 35 years in prison on Friday, the Office for the State Attorney for the 10th Judicial Circuit announced.

According to a news release and probable cause affidavit from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, investigators got a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children showing that a user on the KIK messenger app uploaded a video of child sexual abuse material on Feb. 20, 2020. The footage showed a man sexually abusing a girl, who was approximately 10 to 12 years of age, authorities said.

Investigators tracked the KIK user to Fitzgerald’s home in Lakeland.

Post-Miranda, Fitzgerald told investigators that the email address linked to the KIK account was his old one, according to the probable cause affidavit.

He admitted using the app in the past and that he saw child sexual abuse material there in the messaging groups, documents said. Fitzgerald, however, said he only went to KIK to look for adult porn, and that he never looked for child sexual abuse material or uploaded it to any social media platform.

But when Fitzgerald let authorities look at his cellphone, they found a “Calculator Vault” application, which was used to hide data. According to documents, the defendant claimed he used it in the past to store photos from his extramarital affair. Investigators, however, took a forensic look at his device and found hundreds of illicit materials in which adults sexually abused boys and girls.

“The investigation revealed that Fitzgerald possessed more than 700 pictures and videos of children, as young as infants, being sexually abused by adults or sexually exploited,” wrote prosecutors.

Deputies said that Fitzgerald taught at Lakeland High School and also served as a teacher there. He also was Youth Director at First United Methodist Church in the city of Bartow.

Forensic analysis of his cellphone showed he routinely viewed child sexual abuse material during his daily life, including while teaching, being a youth minister, coaching and going on field trips, authorities said.

More Law&Crime coverage: Feds arrest family medicine doctor in Massachusetts for allegedly possessing vast amounts of child pornography and at least 2 videos of his own patients

“An arrest like this shakes the entire community,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said at the time of the arrest in November 2020. “A man entrusted with the education and guidance of so many children, working closely with them, and betraying that trust in such a heinous way. Sadly, people who possess child pornography are out there, all over the world. But making these kinds of arrests are not rare in Polk County, due to the diligent work of the PCSO Computer Crimes Unit.”

Jail records show that Fitzgerald was locked up again on Thursday at the Polk County Jail; authorities are holding him for the prison system. His attorney of record did not immediately respond to a Law&Crime request for comment.

Kyle Kennedy, a spokesman for Polk County Public Schools, told Law&Crime on Monday that he can confirm that Fitzgerald no longer works for the school district.

“We appreciate the work of law enforcement in bringing this case to justice,” he wrote in an email. “Our schools, and community, deserve to be kept safe from individuals who engage in this kind of behavior.”

Note: We added a statement from the school district.

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