November 6, 2011 — Parents of three young girls molested by Mark Johnstone have filed a $3 Million claim of negligence against Peoria school district and city officials. The parents believe that officials ignored warning signs, failed to follow-up on complaints of inappropriate behavior, and ultimately are liable for the irreparable harm suffered by their children.

Mark Johnstone, 37, worked at the girls’ elementary school as a groundskeeper. He also helped run the after-school program and the summer-school program. It was during the summer of 2007 that he molested a 7 year-old girl, and a parent contacted the police. The police arrested Johnstone. He is currently behind bars, serving a 19-year prison sentence after he was convicted of molesting three young girls. The girls were between the ages of 7 and 9.

This news of a massive, impending lawsuit against Peoria school district and city employees comes at a time of heightened awareness of child molestation. Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State football coach, was recently indicted on charges of child molestation. Like Johnstone, Sandusky’s work placed him in close contact with his victims. Another similarity is that school officials ignored repeated, ongoing warning signs.

Johnstone worked at Cheyenne Elementary School for eight years, and spent five years running extracurricular programs, which gave him a lot of access to young girls. Though there were many red flags, he was not arrested until a parent went directly to the police in August 2007.

There are often “red flags” before a predator has the chance to molest a child. In Johnstone’s case, these warning signs were ignored. Experts say that “red flags” are often ignored because the allegations are so serious. It is important to remember that the victims of inaction are our most vulnerable, helpless children — they pay the price for an official’s inaction. Sexual predators often meticulously groom their image as a trustworthy person, but complaints of of inappropriate behavior and other warning signs must lead to action.

What warning signs can you look for? Child molesters will usually choose certain children to isolate, give them gifts, special attention, and special treatment. According to court documents, male students regarded Johnstone as a “pervert” because of his inappropriate attention toward young girls. He was allowed to come along on field trips, and several incidents occurred on a school bus. He would single out girls, sit them on his lap, give them candy, and visit their classroom for hugs.

When parents and teachers went to school officials with their complaints about his inappropriate behavior toward their children, the officials merely told Johnstone to “keep his distance” and “back off” from the girls. The officials did nothing to restrict his access to young children.

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