The girl, angry at Lanigan about something else entirely, had made the whole thing up. But her accusations launched a soul-sapping rollercoaster ride that still hasn’t ended.
“Emotionally, a part of me has died inside,” Lanigan said in a recent interview. “I’m physically and mentally exhausted all the time, how the whole process has been dragged out to this date. It certainly has affected the quality of life for me and my family at home.”
Lanigan remains in limbo, nearly a year after a jury’s acquittal. The Fairfax School District transferred him from Centre Ridge in a move that ultimately forced his wife to quit her job. School officials are now transferring him again. And the district has refused to pay his $125,000 in legal fees, even though Virginia law allows reimbursement for employees who are cleared of wrongdoing on the job.
Lanigan will never forget the day he was pulled from class. Shortly after the detectives questioned him, Lanigan, then 43 — a married father of three with a long history of service as a teacher, top-ranked soccer coach and neighborhood babysitter — had to tell his children he was going to be arrested.
“We try to teach them to do the right thing,” Lanigan said, “and I had to tell them that Daddy was going to jail and my name was going to be on the news. It was heartbreaking.”
That was followed by four nights in the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center.
“It was scary,” he said. “I was just wide-eyed. I’m an accused child molester. I’m thinking, ‘How am I going to last in here?’ ”
From there, Lanigan spent months in anxious exile, forced from his school, his players, his neighbors and his friends, pondering the possibility of up to 40 years in a state penitentiary.
That soon turned to relief. A jury found him not guilty after just 47 minutes of deliberation — virtually unheard of in a child sex abuse case. Jurors were outraged by the lack of evidence, with one weeping in sympathy during closing arguments.
But still the nightmare continues, as Lanigan struggles to earn back his reputation and career.
Within two weeks of the accuser’s report — without ever speaking to the girl — Fairfax detectives arrested Lanigan and charged him with aggravated sexual battery and abduction. The Washington Post is not naming the accuser because she is a minor.
Police issued a press release with Lanigan’s booking photo and home address, and the school district sent home a letter about his arrest. TV trucks descended on the school and his neighborhood, and Lanigan’s reputation took a lasting beating. Even today, the first thing that comes up in a Google search of Sean Lanigan is a Web site called “Bad Bad Teacher.”