A kindergarten teacher at a religious school in Burbank supplied alcohol to a 15-year-old student and had sex with him at least five times while he was underage, prosecutors alleged in court on Wednesday.
Shannon Griffin, 49, a teacher at Jordan Baptist School, also allegedly sent nude images to that student and a 16-year-old boy using Snapchat and asked for illicit images in return, Cook County prosecutors said. Some of the photos showed her getting into the shower and included text saying, "Come on in," and "Missing you," Assistant State's Attorney Kyle Gruca said.
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The new details emerged as Griffin, of Oak Lawn, appeared in court for the first time since being charged Tuesday with sexual assault, solicitation of child pornography, distribution of harmful materials and grooming in two separate cases. The alleged conduct began in late 2013 and continued through last year, Gruca said.
Griffin is married to the pastor who runs the school and has three adult daughters, said her defense attorney, Lori Levin.
"Mrs. Griffin vigorously maintains her innocence," Levin told reporters after the hearing.
Griffin did not say anything during the hearing. She wore a pink tank-top dress and pink Nike sneakers, standing with her hands behind her back and her blonde shoulder-length hair down. She has no previous criminal history.
Cook County Judge John Mahoney ordered Griffin held on a total of $750,000 bond for both cases, calling the allegations "horrible." He also ordered that she have no contact with the alleged victims in the case or with any minors.
"It boggles my mind," he said. "What a betrayal."
Griffin's husband, Pastor Thomas Griffin, was present at the court hearing with a church member. Neither answered questions from a reporter.
Earlier Wednesday, the doors were locked at Jordan Baptist Church, a red brick building with a tall white spire. Several school buses sat in the parking lot connected to the church at 5040 W. 87th Street. A small fenced playground with a slide and a swing set also sat empty behind the building.
The school's and church's websites appear to have been taken offline since Tuesday.
Authorities began investigating the allegations when the Burbank Police Department received an anonymous tip in early March, according to police records obtained through a public records request. The Cook County Sheriff's office took over the investigation in May because of jurisdictional questions that arose in the case.
Gruca said in court Wednesday that most of the alleged sexual encounters between Griffin and the 15-year-old student occurred when the two had sex in the back of a minivan behind a Burger King near West 25th Street and South Pulaski Road in Chicago. That victim is now 21, Gruca said. Five of the alleged sexual encounters occurred when the victim was a student and a sixth occurred after he graduated in 2016, Gruca said.
The student, an athlete, and Griffin, a cheerleading coach, got to know each other while riding the bus to sporting events, according to Gruca. They continued talking over Snapchat and arranged times to meet up, Gruca said.
After the first alleged encounter in November 2013, Griffin gave the student one bottle of Maker's Mark alcohol, Gruca said.
Additional encounters occurred in December 2013, November 2014, November 2015, and December 2015. Griffin allegedly gave him another bottle of Maker's Mark as a minor and $120 worth of alcohol after a sixth encounter when the student was 18, Gruca said.
In the second case, Griffin is accused of sending nude images to a 16-year-old student at Jordan Baptist in January 2018, Gruca said. That student, who is now 17, took six screen shots of images and messages that he allegedly received from Griffin on Snapchat, Gruca said. Some of the images included lewd captions, Gruca said.
Griffin's attorney in court said that none of the images showed her client's face. But the student told police he was able to identify Griffin because of an arrow tattoo on her hip and her Snapchat username, according to Gruca.
Police said they were also able to verify the pictures that Griffin allegedly sent from her bathroom by checking the room in her home with a search warrant after she was taken into custody, Gruca said.
In Oak Lawn, where the Griffins live in a brick home with an enclosed porch on a residential street, several neighbors doing yard work Wednesday said they had never been to the church.
Miguel Castellanos, 33, said he has lived across the street from the Griffins for two years but has not interacted with them much, other than a wave "hello" from time to time. Castellanos said Shannon Griffin and her adult daughters often are outside, riding their bikes or walking together.
"I'm just shocked right now," he said after learning about the charges.
Castellanos said he saw about five unmarked police cars outside the Griffin home on Monday morning when he was returning home from working an overnight job.
"It looked like the house was being raided," he said.
No one answered the door Wednesday at the family home, which is just about three blocks from the church. The house is also steps away from a large playground at Brandt Park.
The Cook County Sheriff's Office said the investigation into Griffin's alleged conduct is ongoing.
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