A teacher at a charter school in Richmond, California, was arrestedon suspicion of child molestation on Wednesday and is now charged with 29 counts of child molestation, according to the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office.
Anessa Paige Gower, 35, a biology teacher at Making Waves Academy, was taken into custody in Sacramento after she returned from a vacation in Hawaii, according to the district attorney's office.
Gower Allegedly Engaged in Sex Acts with 7 Minors Between 2021 and 2022
Prosecutors allege that Gower engaged in "numerous" acts of a sexual nature with seven minors between October 2021 and February 2022, according to a statement released by the district attorney's office on Friday. The charter school has 1,100 students in grades 5-12, according to the school's website. Gower worked at the charter school for about three and a half months from October to February.
Students reported her to administrators, who alerted Richmond police, authorities said. Police opened an investigation on February 18. The number of known students she allegedly violated grew from two to seven. Investigators obtained statements from the victims and witnesses about the alleged indecent acts and arrested Gower on Wednesday morning.
Paul Graves, the Contra Costa County deputy district attorney who supervises the sexual assault unit, described the charges as "some sex-related, some social media communications related, and inappropriate contact with minors."
Gower is currently in custody with her bail set at $1.9 million. She is set to be arraigned on Monday, April 11 at Contra Costa County Superior Court.
School's CEO Issues Statement
Making Waves Academy Chief Executive Officer Alton B. Nelson, Jr. issued the following statement after news of the arrest became public. "There is nothing more important than the health, safety and well-being of our students. During the course of an investigation into allegations that one of our teachers violated school policy, we learned of additional highly concerning allegations involving that teacher's conduct," Nelson said.
"We immediately shared that information with authorities who are reviewing the matter. That teacher is no longer employed by Making Waves Academy and we have reached out to parents, students and faculty to provide support where it might be needed. At this time we can make no further comment," he added.
Previous Incident of Child Molestation by a Teacher at Making Waves Academy
This is not the first time a teacher at the Richmond school has been arrested on molestation charges. In 2017, sixth grade science and math teacher Ronald Guinto was convicted of molesting over a dozen victims for several years, according to the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office.
In 2002, Guinto lured his first victim, a then 12-year-old boy, through an AOL chat room to sneak out of his home. Prosecutors said Guinto proceeded to molest the boy on multiple occasions in Santa Clara and Solano counties.
Guinto was found guilty on 87 of the 90 counts he was charged with, including forcible child molestation, witness dissuasion and kidnapping, according to prosecutors. He was later sentenced to over 900 years in prison. Twelve of his former students at Making Waves Academy received a combined settlement of $10.9 million after suing the the school, an attorney said.