By Josh White, Blaine Harden and Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 25, 2010; A01
Kevin Ricks was a gregarious, well-traveled English teacher at Osbourn High School, a Walt Whitman devotee who was so popular that a photo of him in class was chosen to fill the opening page of the yearbook. A writer and photographer himself, Ricks would walk the halls of the Manassas school with a leather-bound journal of his musings tucked in his bag, next to his laptop computer.
What teachers, parents, students and even his wife didn't know was that his journals contained decades of dark secrets, a running handwritten commentary of Ricks's world of obsession, infatuation, pursuit, sexual abuse and international child exploitation.
They didn't know about his library of homemade pornographic videos and explicit photographs capturing his tequila-soaked sex acts with teenage boys he had handpicked. They didn't know about the makeshift shrine boxes containing mementos of the episodes, including sex toys, soiled tissues and hair trimmings.
Even some of the victims didn't know they were victims.
A four-month Washington Post investigation of Ricks's career as a teacher, tutor, foreign exchange host and camp counselor has revealed a pattern of abuse that dates to at least 1978 and has left a trail of victims spanning the globe. But despite the abuse, Ricks moved from one teaching job to the next over nearly 30 years, navigating the nation's public and private school systems undetected, evading traps designed to catch him.
In some cases, school officials and foreign exchange companies knew of or suspected Ricks's inappropriate behavior and simply let him go, leaving the next employer with no idea what was coming.
His case underscores the difficulties that educators and parents face when they only suspect abuse but can't prove it, and how reluctant even the most suspicious and well-meaning people can be in coming forward with allegations. It shows how someone can for decades wear a mask of trusted role model while using that powerful position to lure unsuspecting boys.
Interviews with six of his victims or their families in Asia, Europe and the United States -- along with several others who think they or their children were being groomed as victims -- tell a story of a teacher who believed he was falling passionately in love with his students and the foreigners he brought into the country. They said he spent months infiltrating their lives, their families and their youth groups. He plied them with expensive gifts, trips, event tickets, attention and ultimately loads of alcohol.
When the boys were in a drunken stupor or asleep, Ricks would molest them, using a camcorder and camera to capture the graphic, secret sex acts, according to victims and law enforcement officials.
Police and prosecutors in Virginia and Maryland said their investigations have turned up alarming evidence of predation along with a hoard of child pornography and matching journal entries describing the abuse. A Manassas police detective and FBI agents are scouring his computers and journals and have been looking across three continents for evidence.
So far, he is charged in Prince William County with the sexual battery of one teenager. But the federal investigation and Post inquiry have turned up much more.
Teachers and school administrators in several jurisdictions said in interviews that Ricks came with recommendations and an unblemished record. Some said privately, however, that they had concerns about his closeness with students and rumors of possible abuse but that they felt powerless to do anything about it.
One school board on Maryland's Eastern Shore let him go after allegations arose citing a contract technicality but later went so far as to ban him from school property. Ricks simply moved to another school district.
School systems said they couldn't act because they lacked evidence, even after warnings surfaced that Ricks was trouble, or they didn't dig deep enough to find proof. Ricks was hired for a teaching job in Manassas nine days before he was convicted of felony theft and served a weekend in jail in Maryland, a theft that Manassas officials never knew about.
Ricks -- universally described by those who know him as intelligent, friendly, generous and convincing -- used those natural abilities to get close to the teenage boys around him and to groom them for his exploits. He also became close to their friends and parents, they said, presenting himself as a caring teacher and mentor.
"He's a predator," said Amy Ashworth, a Prince William County assistant commonwealth's attorney who handles crimes against children and is prosecuting Ricks in the abuse of a Manassas teen. "Predators are masters of manipulation. These people tend to be likable. They don't set off alarm bells, and people think they are not a threat. But parents need to be suspicious of anyone who shows such an interest in their children."
Ricks is just one of countless teachers, youth group leaders and coaches who have been charged with abusing children in their care across the country. Working among those who do the right thing every day, they have managed to slip through the cracks of society's safety net.
In more than three hours of conversation with a reporter in six telephone calls and a video conference in the Prince William County jail, Ricks declined to comment on the record, citing a court hearing scheduled for Thursday at which he is expected to plead guilty to one felony charge of indecent liberties with a minor under his supervision. But in a May 24 letter to a friend after his arrest, Ricks wrote: "I'm not innocent this time. I have crossed the line. I deserve to be here," the friend said.
On Friday, in a written statement provided by his attorney, Ricks asked that the public not judge him on the sexual abuse allegations.
"I've wanted nothing more from life than to be a model of compassion and empathy. To the extent that I have failed causes me grief for which I will spend the rest of my days seeking forgiveness and atonement," Ricks said. "It is understandable how some may see me in a negative light, but like other people in this world, I have had many positive accomplishments in my personal life and career. I would like people to consider those as well."Manassas
Facebook was Ricks's undoing.
On a cold February morning, Manassas police received a call from concerned Osbourn parents. Their daughter had gained access to a friend's Facebook account and stumbled upon a series of explicit messages between Ricks and her friend. The dialogue indicated sex between Ricks and the 16-year-old boy.
Detectives located the boy and his family and interviewed them. They learned that over winter break, while the teenager was staying with his father in Manassas, Ricks had gotten him drunk in the father's basement and had performed sex acts on him, according to police and court documents.
Ricks had been living with the boy's father for about a year, renting the basement room for $500 a month so he wouldn't have to commute to his home in Federalsburg, Md., more than two hours away. The teen had been in Ricks's English class at Osbourn but had since moved away to live with his mother, coming back to Manassas on weekends and vacations.
It was Thursday, Feb. 18, and Ricks was about to head to the Manassas home after school. Police intercepted him at Osbourn.
Ricks's arrest prompted an immediate outpouring of student support, including nearly 200 who joined a new Facebook page trumpeting his innocence. He was charged with aggravated sexual battery, carnal knowledge and two counts of indecent liberties with a minor while in a supervisory role. A judge ordered him held without bond.
A search of Ricks's home in Federalsburg uncovered a private space that police have dubbed "The Toy Room." Hidden inside, detectives found what they think is the intricately documented history of a child predator at work over several decades.
Stacks and stacks of leather-bound journals included graphic accounts of the pursuit and ultimate sexual conquest of at least a dozen boys and perhaps many more. They found homemade videos of the abuse as it occurred in locations across the country and photographs of teenagers in various states of undress.
"The journals appear to be a self-confession of sorts," said one law enforcement source who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is ongoing. "And they allowed him to relive what he had done."
One entry, from Christmas Eve 2009, spoke directly of the Manassas victim's abuse, authorities said. In it, Ricks writes about giving the boy a Heineken and five shots of tequila while watching a movie. He then describes deep, passionate kisses and notes details about the boy's genitals. Ricks wrote that he was in love and that it was the best 12 hours of his life, authorities said.
"It was the most evidence I've ever seen," said Federalsburg Police Chief Donald R. Nagel, describing as "sickening" the bags and bags of materials that were taken from the home in four carloads. "He documented everything, all describing relationships with boys. He was a very intelligent predator. He was a pro at how he accomplished what he accomplished. I think there are many more victims. And others who aren't sure they're victims."
The magnitude of the find, and the possibility that Ricks's trail crossed state lines and into other countries, led the FBI to get involved. Working with local police, agents have begun poring through the journals and the images to identify what appeared to be numerous unknown victims, all of them attractive, athletic boys in their late teens.North Carolina
Ricks was born May 3, 1960, in northern North Carolina, graduating from Roanoke Rapids High School in 1978 and enrolling at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
As a teenager, Ricks worked at area summer camps, landing in the late 1970s at Camp Holiday Trails in Charlottesville near the University of Virginia. The camp, which caters to children with disabilities and chronic medical problems, is where he met his future wife, Abby, who is hearing impaired.
It's also where he met a young deaf boy onto whom he immediately latched. The boy's family provides an account of how the relationship began and evolved, and it also shows the beginning of a pattern that would last until his arrest 32 years later.
The boy's older brother and mother said that Ricks was a junior counselor in the boy's cabin and that he was very protective of the boy, almost to the level of obsession.
The Post is not identifying the boy or his family members because he is a victim of a sex crime and did not want to be named.
The boy's mother said that Ricks helped put together an annual booklet for the camp and that she was surprised to see her son featured in so many stories and poems and in more than half the photos.
Ricks grew close to the family, visiting them in their Virginia home. Knowing that they were in a tough financial situation, Ricks at one point took the boy on a dream vacation to Disney World.
In summer 1978, when Ricks was 18 and the boy was 10, he offered to take him to Ricks's family home in North Carolina because the boy's mother had just divorced and didn't have a place to live.
The brother, who described himself as a longtime friend of Ricks's, said that's when Ricks molested the boy.
Law enforcement officials, who interviewed the victim -- now 42 -- this summer in Virginia, said he recounted incidents at the North Carolina house that escalated from kissing to explicit sex acts. It is the earliest known abuse case involving Ricks, authorities say.
There is no evidence that Ricks molested the boy at the summer camp, and camp officials who worked there at the time said they had no recollection of any such allegations surfacing.
Many years later, he confronted Ricks via the Internet, asking him about the abuse, and Ricks apologized, according to the family. Law enforcement officials confirmed that they found those chat transcripts among Ricks's belongings and have contacted authorities in North Carolina. Roanoke Rapids police said they have received the case and are going to investigate; there is no statute of limitations for felonies in North Carolina.
The boy's mother said she learned of the sexual abuse allegation in June, when her son first revealed it after Ricks's arrest.
"It's like finding out that your brother's a serial killer," the mother said, her voice cracking. "I am so hurt to think that we really loved him like he was a part of our family and that he betrayed us, that he had done this to my child. I just cannot believe anyone could be that horrible. It's just sick."
Ricks received his diploma from UNC in 1983, and he taught at a private school in Norfolk for a year. He also taught for a year at a private school in North Carolina, and in the mid-1980s, he taught at private schools in the Atlanta area, at least once serving as the dorm master for a boys' boarding school, according to his résumé.
Because private schools do not always require teaching certificates or teaching experience, Ricks was able to get the jobs without applying for a license. Georgia education officials, for example, have no record of him ever applying for or receiving a license there.Japan
About 1988, Ricks entered the fledgling Japanese Exchange and Teaching Program, which sent him to the town of Aso in Kyushu, the most southerly of the four main islands of Japan.
After two years, Shunichi Matsuzaki, the chief of planning for neighboring Oguni, offered to hire Ricks as the town's first foreign English teacher.
Oguni is a small hill town of about 8,000 people on the slopes of Kyushu's volcanic uplands, a nearly magical setting wedged between steep rocky cliffs and mountains covered with cedar and pine forests. Steam rises perpetually from hot springs, which thread through the hills and valleys.
Matsuzaki said he hired Ricks as part of an effort to reinvigorate small-town life, paying him $36,000 a year from the town budget. Ricks supplemented his salary by tutoring students privately.
Ricks taught English at the town's primary and junior high schools. He also tutored at his apartment, at city hall and at a room with beds in it on the second floor of a community center just outside Oguni.
" 'Kevin's Room' was his base," said Yoshiaki Harayama, now the town's head of education. A manager of the community center said the room had a separate locked entrance, and Ricks had a key, allowing him to come and go as he pleased.
In Oguni, Ricks was like a rock star. He spent his money freely, buying a red Miata sports car and traveling, at one point going to a Michael Jackson concert in Tokyo. Town officials said that when children spotted him they would shout: "Kevin! Kevin!"
If people suspected Ricks of molesting children, they didn't talk about it publicly. Child abuse is such a cultural taboo that victims would be unlikely to acknowledge it.
"It wasn't believed that men would molest boys," said Kenji Tsunoda, assistant principal of the Oguni junior high, who said there is a powerful cultural impulse in Japan to hide or repress such things.
Additional cover came in December 1992, when Ricks went back to the United States to get married, after rekindling his relationship with Abby via letters in 1991. He moved her to Japan in 1993.
He was "a kind and gentle person who loved teaching," she said.
Takashi Kajiwara, now 31 and a father of four, remembers being Ricks's "favorite." Then a junior high school student, Kajiwara was treated to taco dinners at Ricks's home and to frequent concert tickets.
"Most of the time Ricks only invited me, but sometimes he had a party with five or six boys," Kajiwara said in an interview at his father's construction company. "They were all boys. We had a lot of fun."
Kajiwara said he remembers Ricks becoming close with the rest of his family, including his parents and grandmother. Ricks also taught his siblings, including a younger brother. At one point, Ricks tried to get affectionate with Kajiwara while in Japan.
"He approached, but I didn't like it. I said no," Kajiwara said. "He tried to hug me many times. At first I thought it was just because he is American . . . a kind of custom. But little by little, I thought it was a little bit strange."
Then came the trip to the United States.
Kajiwara said he flew alone with Ricks to San Francisco in 1994, and they drove across the country in a rented car, stopping to see the Grand Canyon and the Rocky Mountains before staying at the Ricks family home in North Carolina for three weeks.
On the first night, in a San Francisco hotel room, Ricks brought out tequila and set down shot glasses rimmed with salt. Ricks told Kajiwara that it was customary to drink eight or nine tequila shots in a row, so he did, leading him to pass out cold. The rest is hazy at best.
"He prepared that for two, so I thought it was like a western movie," Kajiwara said. "And then he said: 'This is our friendship.' So I drank it, and I had no memory after that."
Law enforcement officials said they have found extensive evidence of Kajiwara's trip with Ricks across the country, including VHS cassettes and photographs of sexual abuse in the San Francisco hotel room and at other locations. Some of the photos were discovered just days ago, law enforcement officials said. Kajiwara is mentioned in Ricks's Dec. 24, 2009, journal entry in a comparison to the experience with the Manassas victim.
Kajiwara said he has no memory of the abuse but was "disgusted" when informed of what was found in Ricks's home. "I feel a kind of anger as well," he said.
Whether school officials suspected abuse or not, it was other troubles with the law that ended Ricks's time in Japan. According to Matsuzaki, who hired him in Oguni, Ricks had "shoplifting habits" that caught up with him in 1995.
At a store in nearby Kumamoto, a former policeman working as a security guard caught Ricks stealing, Matsuzaki said. The store reported the incident to Oguni education officials, who insisted that Ricks's contract not be renewed.
There was no official charge or prosecution. Ricks and his wife then suddenly left Oguni.
The allegations surfacing nearly 15 years later shocked townspeople, including Kajiwara, who had gotten a Christmas card from Ricks each year until 2008. Some town officials wonder whether they just missed the truth.
"Maybe he has two faces," Matsuzaki said. "Maybe he has two personalities. The good face is that of a very good, friendly teacher. The second face is that of a sexual molester."
The reason Ricks's contract was not renewed in Japan never made it to the United States.Danville
Ricks and his wife left one small town for another, returning to the United States and settling in Danville, Va., where Abby Ricks had attended college. They traded the mystical volcanic foothills of Japan for a shrinking factory town built along the murky Dan River just miles from the North Carolina border.
There, Ricks immediately returned to education, according to school records. He worked as a substitute teacher in Danville beginning in November 1995 and then took a full-time job about an hour away in Burlington, N.C., for the 1996-97 school year, for which he obtained a one-year temporary state license, according to North Carolina records.
Danville then hired him as a full-time English teacher for the 1997-98 school year. Although he would have been required to have a Virginia teaching license for that year, state Department of Education records show that he did not and that he did not apply for one. Danville schools officials declined to explain how he was hired without a license.
Fresh from his experience working with students in Japan, Ricks began what would be a 15-year stretch hosting foreign exchange students in the United States. Working as both a coordinator who placed students in local homes and as a host himself, Ricks brought dozens of students to Danville.
Law enforcement officials said the foreign exchange program appears to have been a way for Ricks to import vulnerable teenage boys into his home. The students he handpicked were unfamiliar with American customs, spoke a non-native language, and were reliant on Ricks for food and shelter. And he would ultimately be able to send them back overseas.
Several foreign students who knew Ricks or lived with him described his modest three-bedroom home on Marshall Terrace as being a bit of a zoo, with a constant flow of students and visitors.
"Kevin's house worked as a social base for all the exchange students, including those who had host families," said former Swedish exchange student Marcus Christiansen, describing himself as a friend who trusts Ricks implicitly.
"I have done a bit of backpacking, and the feeling of that house was that of an international youth hostel," said Christiansen, who stayed with Ricks for several weeks in the late 1990s.
In 1997-98, Ricks hosted a German exchange student in his home, who in a telephone interview said that he considered his time in the United States to be one of the best years of this life, praising Ricks for his attentiveness and care.
Although the German student had agreed to be identified for this story, law enforcement officials later said that they think he is a victim of sexual abuse based on evidence they have recovered. The student, who had not yet been contacted by police or the FBI, said in an interview that he was unaware of anything inappropriate during his stay with Ricks.
Christiansen said Ricks was constantly entertaining the exchange students, taking them on trips up and down the East Coast, going to Tar Heel football games about an hour away in Chapel Hill, and piling them into his red BMW 3 Series to go to the mall or the movies.
It was on one of those trips that a Spanish exchange student, who asked not to be identified, noticed something unusual. It was Nov. 4, 1998, and Ricks had taken a few students to Cat's Cradle, a well-known music venue outside Chapel Hill. Along a dark rural road about halfway home, Ricks stopped at a post office to go to a box he maintained there, the student said.
"He left us in the car and got in the postal office. I went out of the car to take my jacket out of the trunk," said the student, who said he noticed an open envelope and some pictures that had scattered. "I took some pictures in my hand, and I realized that the pictures were of naked boys about our age. I didn't know who they were. I was scared, so I put the pictures back in the envelope and closed the trunk."
Danish exchange student Uffe Emborg also found photographs of a naked teenager. They turned out to be pictures of him, making him the only known victim who caught Ricks with evidence.
Emborg, who paid foreign exchange company Education First $8,000 to come to the United States for six months in 1999, stayed at Ricks's home for the final two months of his exchange. Emborg, now 29, said Ricks formed a tight bond with him, taking him on frequent trips, lavishing him with gifts -- including an expensive camera and use of the red BMW. Ricks often told him that he loved previous exchange students, but that he loved Emborg more.
Then Ricks started giving Emborg massages. "I can now obviously see why he would want to give me a massage, but at the time it seemed like he was just being a nice guy," Emborg said in a lengthy interview along one of Copenhagen's famous canals, 11 years later. "I trusted him."
One night, Ricks gave Emborg an enormous amount of tequila, telling him that it "symbolized our friendship," Emborg said. He passed out. When he awoke the next morning, he knew something was wrong but couldn't quite explain it. He looked around the house for answers.
Eventually he found those answers in Ricks's bedside table.
"I found some photos of me that he had taken while I was asleep. He had pulled down my pants," Emborg said. "I recognized the bedsheets from my room. They were naked photographs."
Upset and saddened, Emborg confronted Ricks, who he said acknowledged what had happened and also admitted touching him while he was asleep. He said he told Ricks he never would have welcomed such advances from a man and did not approve. Both emotional, the two then went outside and torched the photographs in a backyard grill.
But police said they found copies in Ricks's belongings more than a decade later.
Although Emborg did not tell anyone what had happened, law enforcement officials said Ricks apparently confessed to someone he knew, who then called the authorities. A police car arrived at the house days after Emborg confronted Ricks. Emborg said Ricks talked to a detective and then came to him and asked him not to say anything about the photographs.
"They asked if anything improper had happened, and I said no," Emborg said. "I wish I would have said yes. But why didn't they just investigate it a little more? I didn't want to be the one who got Kevin in trouble. He was my friend. . . . I know now that it's important for people to come forward. . . . Maybe it could have prevented other things from happening."
Danville police said because no charges were filed and the event was so long ago, they have no record of visiting Ricks's home that day.
After Emborg's return home, he refused to answer Ricks's annual Christmas cards and did not want to talk about Ricks, something that always seemed strange to his family.
Emborg first spoke generally about the abuse five years ago while going through some counseling at work, and he just told his family about it in recent months. Emborg agreed to speak publicly -- and to testify in a U.S. court if asked -- because he wants others to come forward. He also says he thinks Ricks needs help more than he needs punishment.
"He really told me he loved me, that he would never hurt me," Emborg said. "If all that was a scam to just get in my pants, I'd be very surprised. I still have a hard time thinking that's all it was about. He just took the relationship way too far in his own mind."
Boston-based Education First declined to answer questions about Ricks's tenure in Danville or the allegations of abuse there, instead releasing a brief statement.
"Mr. Ricks' affiliation as a local coordinator and host family with our program was terminated several years prior to his recent arrest," wrote Megan Allen, an EF vice president. "EF Foundation for Foreign Study is cooperating fully with any requests from local authorities pertaining to their investigation of Mr. Ricks."
Although Education First did not answer questions about Ricks's termination, a foreign exchange student from Brazil, Piero Mazzini, alleged that Ricks stole $2,000 from his bank account that Ricks helped open. After Mazzini and his host mother confronted Ricks with evidence of the theft, Mazzini said, Ricks vowed to pay it back. Instead, EF paid Mazzini back and fired Ricks, Mazzini said.
Ricks and his wife then suddenly picked up and moved to another small town.
Danville schools officials said Ricks left in November 2000. Janet Gaddy, the lead teacher who supervised Ricks when he taught English there, remembered him as personable but said she told a potential employer of his that she would not hire him again.
"It wasn't for personal reasons," Gaddy said. "It was typical things. . . . He needed some work on classroom discipline."Federalsburg
If Ricks and his wife were looking for quaint and out of the way, they found it in Federalsburg, at the southern tip of Caroline County on Maryland's Eastern Shore. The town of 2,700 sits amid the low-lying farmland just west of the Delaware border.
They moved into a two-story home with an expansive back yard and a garage that was converted into an apartment. The house sits close to its neighbors along Bloomingdale Avenue, a main street in what is considered one of the town's nicer areas. It's also just up the street from the police station and a few minutes to Col. Richardson High School, where Ricks landed a full-time teaching job in November 2000.
Ricks obtained a provisional teaching certificate in Maryland that was good from January 2001 to January 2003, a temporary license that indicates a school system wants to hire a teacher who hasn't met all state requirements, according to the Maryland State Department of Education.
At Richardson, Ricks became adviser to Students Helping Other People, a group that participated in service projects. Ricks selected the members, who pledged not to drink, smoke or do drugs, and it was there that Ricks met another boy.
"He was a teacher, and he started out being real friendly and being very complimentary of our son," said the boy's mother, who asked to remain anonymous to protect his identity. "He started out being a good friend, a good role model. In a roundabout way, he started getting friendly with us so we were comfortable with him being a friend to our son. It's nice when a teacher is interested in your kids educationally."
But the relationship shifted quickly. Ricks would invite the boy out to pizza, take him to movies such as "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings," and host sleepovers. He joined the boy's church and his youth group as an adviser, and began pulling him out of class to talk.
Both the boy and his parents became wary, even suspicious.
"It just got creepy to the point where my son knew that something wasn't on the up-and-up," his mother said, adding that the boy's father told Ricks to stop bothering him and to stop calling. "He hadn't really done anything; it was just getting to the point where we were feeling unsafe. . . . We felt we had to protect our son, and the other kids."
Rachel Clark, a mother of 11 whose husband works in the Caroline County school system, met Ricks in late 2002 through school activities, and they quickly became close friends. She remembers the incident with the boy at school -- and several other episodes with different boys -- and said Ricks would come to her in tears.
Over lunch at Dairy Queen, Clark and Ricks would talk about how devastated he would be when a parent told him to stay away from their son.
"I told him that he looked like he was grooming this kid and stalking him," Clark said. "He said that those are some pretty powerful words. And I said that he was doing some pretty powerful things. The word 'stalker,' 'grooming,' 'pedophile' came off my lips more than once. He never denied it."
But Clark said that at the time she never seriously suspected any abuse and spoke to potential employers as a reference for Ricks: "I told them that, if anything, he's been accused of caring too much and being too involved. Little did I know what too involved really meant."
Still, the rumors in the small town reached the school board. Ricks's contract was allowed to expire June 30, 2003, because he did not convert his temporary teaching certificate into a full certification, said John T. Perry, supervisor of human resources for Caroline County Public Schools. But backroom discussions centered on the earlier allegations of Ricks's stalking of the student and his becoming too close to students, according to current and former county school employees. School officials called county social services to look into the matter; the department declined to discuss the case, and a county report, included in a Circuit Court case file, is sealed.
Clark said she thinks that the school system was looking for a way to remove Ricks and found a technicality, but it was a technicality that would leave no mark on his record.
James Orr, a former assistant superintendent who hired Ricks, said he could not comment on the case because it was a personnel matter. But, he said, it is an example of why schools must remain vigilant.
"It just turns my stomach when this mud splashes on education," Orr said. "It just makes me sick. We work really hard to educate kids and protect them, and then something like this happens. As a victim of this occurring, it's embarrassing, but it also heightens my resolve to make sure each and every person that has contact with kids is the right person, the right professional."
At the same time Ricks was teaching, he linked up with another foreign exchange company, the American Scandinavian Student Exchange.
Clark said Ricks would excitedly show her photographs of prospective exchange students, such as one time in 2003.
"Kevin came to me and said: 'Look at this profile of this kid I'm thinking about getting,' " Clark said. "He was going through pictures deciding which kid he wanted."
It was another German exchange student, then 17 years old. He arrived in September 2003 and began living with Ricks, while Ricks was teaching at a nearby private school, Wye River Upper.
Strange things began happening immediately, the student, now 23, said in an interview in Seoul, where he is in a one-year management program. He agreed to be interviewed only if his name was not used.
The student said Ricks insisted on a hug before bed every night, something that made the student very uncomfortable.
"It was very important to him," the student said. "He told me a lot that he loved me and he only had a short time to get close to me."
Ricks seemed to have unlimited time to take the student to movies, restaurants, a skiing trip in New England, a Washington Wizards game, a visit to North Carolina, an Aerosmith/Kiss concert in Washington and a tennis tournament featuring a match between Andy Roddick and James Blake.
But on one trip, the student noticed something weird: "When I was sleeping in the passenger seat, he turned the rear-view mirror so he could look me right in the face. I woke up and looked directly into his eyes."
The student said he was allowed to use Ricks's home computer but in doing so discovered a large amount of gay pornography. He said Ricks explained that he copied video cassettes onto DVDs to sell on the Internet, a story the student didn't question.
Ricks captured the German student's e-mail log-in information when he used the computer and began spying on his communications, the student said. When the student decided he had had enough, Ricks threatened to ruin him, accusing him of drinking and using drugs and ultimately sending out messages to the teen's family and friends alleging as much.
When the student complained to ASSE, the program immediately removed him from Ricks's home, and police were sent to retrieve the student's belongings. Although there were no allegations of sexual abuse, ASSE officials felt uncomfortable and acted immediately, said Bill Gustafson, the group's current president.
Naomi Richards, a special education teacher at nearby Preston Elementary School, said the German student came to her in March 2004 and begged to live with her, saying he wasn't happy with Ricks.
"Mr. Ricks wouldn't let [the student] go," Richards said. "He was in love with him. He kept him prisoner. He would mentally torture him."
After the student moved out, Ricks called Richards's house incessantly trying to speak with him, sometimes crying, and he would leave little gifts at the front door, Richards said. She remembers Ricks being particularly upset that the student "never even said goodbye."
Ricks even changed his bulldog's name from Brodie to the German student's name, Clark said. At one point, Ricks allegedly got another student to go to the high school to take video of the German student during tennis team practice. Ricks couldn't go himself, according to court testimony, because he had been barred from school property. School officials would not confirm the ban.
It got so bad that Richards and the student went to Caroline County District Court on May 13, 2004, seeking a restraining order against Ricks. In a 13-minute hearing before Judge Douglas H. Everngam, they argued that Ricks was harassing the student.
"I want him to leave me alone, but he doesn't do that," the student said, according to an audiotape of the hearing. But the student did not report any abuse.
The judge said that he was glad the student was out of Ricks's house but that there were not grounds for a restraining order.
The student said in the recent interview that he was not articulate or persuasive in court because of language issues and his fear of talking to a judge. But he said it was also because of the subtle kind of misery he had endured.
"I couldn't express it so much," he said. "Because he didn't stab me or touch me, there was no way I could get [the judge to issue an order]. If I would have lied, maybe they would have searched his house and that maybe would have prevented some other victims."
Part of the student's difficulty in court was that he does not remember any sexual abuse. But in May -- six years after the court hearing -- the FBI called to tell him that they had found pictures and videos of him naked as well as a box of mementos related to what Ricks had done to him. He said it was the first time he had heard of it.
He said it had to have happened on a winter night after a bout of heavy drinking with Ricks and another boy.
"I remember going to bed in the TV room he had and waking up with really weird hair," the student said. "That night he took pictures of me naked without me noticing. . . . I didn't want to see the pictures. I didn't want to know how it looks or what kind of pictures he took."
The student also endured some level of mental abuse after returning to Germany, he said, because Ricks tried to disparage him with family and friends, sending angry e-mails, he said. In 2004, Ricks also apparently created a profile for the student on a German dating service's Web site, posting a photo of the boy wearing just a towel and directing responses to Ricks in the United States
"There were red flags flying up everywhere when he was around," Richards said. "The man is devious. . . . He was picking out these nice-looking, tall, handsome, athletic boys. How can they let someone like that through to work in all these schools?"
Gustafson said that after the incident with the German student, Ricks was barred from hosting students in his own home but was still allowed to place students with other hosts. ASSE discovered the following year that Ricks had scammed his way into hosting another student.
Clark said Ricks listed her family as the host family for the new student knowing that the Clarks couldn't host him, allowing Ricks to have him. When ASSE found out, they immediately removed the student from Ricks's home and fired him.
"At that point, he became furious," Gustafson said.
Ricks fought back, filing papers in Caroline County Circuit Court on Oct. 15, 2004, asking for a temporary injunction against the company and arguing that the student should stay put because his family had formed "a bond" with him. But a judge refused to move forward with the case.
The situation, which Gustafson described as "horrible," was particularly difficult for ASSE because Ricks passed the company's routine background checks: "The thing that is disturbing is that in a situation like this, it typically isn't convicted felons. How do you identify sexual abuse or exploitation when they're not criminals?"
Gustafson said he would love to see a formal "black list" that foreign exchange companies and the State Department could use to identify people who are inappropriate or unsuitable to host students. But he said officials have been unwilling to support such a list because "without proof, we have been told that we could be held liable for essentially preventing someone from having an opportunity."
In Ricks's case, Gustafson said: "He for sure would have gone on the black list."
A week before Ricks filed the court papers in 2004, he took another teaching job, this time in the Baltimore City schools. The State Department of Education has no record of Ricks completing the requirements for a full license, but Baltimore confirmed that he worked there until September 2007 as a high school teacher.
About midway through his tenure in Baltimore -- in September 2006 -- the parent of a 13-year-old boy in Federalsburg called police to report that something suspicious had happened in Ricks's home. The parent told police that the boy was with Ricks playing video games and watching movies when Ricks asked him to sit on his lap.
Police investigated but couldn't find any law that had been broken.
"This wasn't the only complaint we got, but we couldn't validate anything," said Nagel, the Federalsburg police chief. "We had our suspicions. But we were hitting brick walls everywhere. We all felt the same way, but we would get one step and then fall six behind. We couldn't prove anything."
Ashworth, the Prince William prosecutor, said cases of alleged inappropriate actions are hard for authorities to pursue because "creepy" behavior often doesn't rise to anything illegal. For police to get a search warrant, for example, they need probable cause that a crime has occurred.
"Police are powerless until they have a victim who is cooperating or real evidence of abuse," Ashworth said. "Prosecutors are powerless until we have a case provable beyond a reasonable doubt."
While police couldn't prove anything related to abuse, Ricks got caught up in legal troubles in Maryland in 2007. That April, Ricks stole $650 worth of movie tickets from a theater in Salisbury during a trip with a group of young people. Security surveillance video caught him reaching over the counter, and he was arrested in cinema No. 5 with the items in a shopping bag.
Convicted in Wicomico District Court in May 2007, Ricks received a 20-day jail sentence but immediately appealed to Circuit Court.
Over that summer, Ricks scrambled to get a new job, according to his friend Clark. He applied to Manassas and got an interview, all the while delaying his court case.
Manassas Schools Superintendent Gail Pope said officials did a criminal background check on Ricks and nothing turned up. He came with letters of recommendation, including one that said he was "an excellent teacher," Pope said. Checks with a previous employer were clean. State records indicate he started in Manassas on Aug. 20, 2007.
He was found guilty at trial of theft, a felony, nine days later. He was sentenced to a weekend in jail and a year of probation, but the judge arranged it so the judgment would purge after a year of good behavior.
According to jail records, he served his sentence from 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 1, to 9 a.m. Monday, Sept. 3, Labor Day. The next day, he was dismissed by the Baltimore schools and went to Osbourn High School for the first day of classes.Manassas/Fauquier
Not long after going to Manassas as an 11th- and 12th-grade English teacher, Ricks began tutoring students in his spare time. He took a particular interest in one Fauquier County student, offering to take him on trips, buying him an iPod and trying to spend more time with him.
Ricks also reached out to the boy's friends, including Joel Kaiser, also of Fauquier. Kaiser said he met Ricks via MySpace in 2008, when he was 16.
Ricks sent a message to Kaiser, asking if the two could talk more about the friend whom Ricks was tutoring. The questions from Ricks were vague, but they soon veered as Ricks prodded Kaiser for details about his friend's life, personality and needs.
"My walls for being fearful of the guy were down because he was a tutor and a teacher," said Kaiser, now 18. "He asked questions that should have raised a red flag, but he had a good way of asking them that made him seem more concerned."
Ricks's messages, obtained by The Post, are like those an infatuated teenager might send while trying to determine whether a love interest has reciprocal feelings. He wrote about seeing the boy's face pop up on his cellphone while on a trip in Europe, hearing songs on the radio that reminded him of the boy, and asking questions while trying to determine how the boy felt.
"Does he have Jekyll/Hyde potential or is what you see, what you get?" read one message. "Any hints from your perspective as to what he might 'need' from me? . . . I've made a tremendous financial and time investment in him. I do not regret it at all, but I'm questioning myself in a major way."
Kaiser corresponded with Ricks for about a week in mid-August 2008 before agreeing to meet him. His mother, however, intervened and prevented the meeting. Then, Kaiser said, Ricks started showing up and lingering at the restaurant where Kaiser worked. Police were asked to get involved, but they determined that he was in a public place and wasn't doing anything illegal.
Joel Kaiser's mother, Elena Kaiser, said she warned the friend's parents about what was happening. The friend's father, on Sept. 15, 2008, wrote an e-mail to Ricks asking him to leave the boys alone.
"I have consulted with friends who are knowledgeable about adult-adolescent relationships . . . and all of these people view your behavior with my son as obsessive and predator-like," the father wrote, according to an e-mail Elena Kaiser provided. "Indeed, you infiltrated many aspects of my son's life including tennis, his circle of friends, school, and scouting, all in a matter of months. Looking back on how things developed . . . I am extremely concerned about your behavior so I want this relationship to end now."
Ricks responded: "Received, and, sadly, understood. It is certainly one way to interpret all of this, and certainly has caused me to reexamine my own behavior. Thanks for the communication."
Elena Kaiser then took every MySpace message between Ricks and her son to Osbourn Principal John Conti in an effort to protect Ricks's students there.
"He hadn't committed any crime in what we presented, but it was behavior most reasonable people would find inappropriate for a high school teacher," Elena Kaiser said. "Mr. Conti assured us he would go to the right people, and I felt confident he'd address this."
Patrick Lacy Jr., a lawyer for the Manassas schools, said Conti spoke to Ricks after the warning from Kaiser and told him not to have any contact with the Fauquier students. Lacy said that Conti also spoke with a school resource officer and Fauquier police but that it appeared no laws had been broken.
"You just can't fire someone because a complaint is made and the investigation shows no criminal activity," said Lacy, whose firm represents 50 to 60 school systems. Lacy said he determined there weren't sufficient grounds to do anything.
"I can assure you . . . had the school system known at the time of employment [about what has since surfaced] they would not have hired him," Lacy said. "But, once you hire them, they have certain rights, and you can't just say: 'You're gone.' "
Pope said she asked about dismissing Ricks at the time but was advised there were no grounds.
Ricks remained at the school.
Despite the warning, the next school year Manassas officials asked the Virginia Department of Education to grant Ricks a full teaching license, which would have been his first in his 27-year career.
According to documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, Manassas tried to convince the state that Ricks was qualified for a full license, even though his license in Maryland was not full time and it appeared he had not completed the requirements.
"I request that Mr. Ricks be given credit for a valid out of state license and 3 yrs of full time teaching experience and be issued a full 5 year renewable license with no further requirements to complete," Lydia A. Ware, a city schools senior personnel specialist, wrote on an application dated Aug. 31, 2009. The schools knew that Ricks's provisional license, which cannot be renewed, was set to expire in June 2010.
State officials wrote back Sept. 30, 2009, to say that his application had been denied, and Ricks did nothing to advance the process. It was about this time, police say, that he was grooming the Manassas boy for a relationship that would lead to sex acts three months later. Ricks's arrest in the school's halls followed shortly thereafter.
Elena Kaiser had hoped her alerting the Manassas schools would have gotten Ricks out of Osbourn before he could hurt anyone. Her hopes faded in February when she saw Ricks's face on the evening news.
"We were elated he was caught but so upset because we tried to tell the school system and they basically ignored us," she said. "This is something that was preventable."
The Manassas victim's father, who rented the room to Ricks and said he feels he and his family were betrayed, is livid.
"My biggest disappointment lies with the school system and the teachers union for failing to identify any type of behavior that Kevin obviously displayed," the father said in an emotional interview. "That could have prevented this tragedy."
School officials were likewise upset, and Pope called harming a child "the greatest breach of professionalism" she could think of. "I am furious that this could happen, but I understand that people who have this kind of intelligence can fool us," Pope said.
The arrest and allegations shocked some students, who believed that Ricks was not only a great teacher, but also a great person incapable of such crimes.
Alex Vieyra, a 2010 Osbourn graduate, said that Ricks was the "nicest, most generous teacher" he had ever met. Ricks was different because he sincerely cared for his students, was interested in the same things his students were and would help them with whatever they needed, he said.
Ricks was so popular with students that the first page of the school's 2009 yearbook is a picture shot from behind, showing Ricks in his classroom with the caption: "English teacher Kevin Ricks used probing questions to help students search for insights in literature."
Some law enforcement officials said they think Ricks had prepared for allegations to surface, preemptively gathering negative information about some of his alleged victims and sometimes warning parents and school officials that someone might say something -- but not to believe it.
In Manassas this past school year, Ricks's honors syllabus included John Patrick Shanley's play "Doubt," which was made into a popular movie starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep that Ricks screened in his class. The fictional play centers on a priest accused of molesting an altar boy in 1964.
The priest, in defending himself, tells his congregation that unproven gossip can unfairly and irreparably destroy one's reputation, running wild like feathers blown to the winds. As the story progresses, the priest accuses the boy of stealing wine as a way of explaining what has happened.
In the preface, Shanley explained how his play reflected his own youth at Catholic school: "We had, like many animals, flocked together for warmth and safety. As a result, we were terribly vulnerable to anyone who chose to hunt us. When trust is the order of the day, predators are free to plunder. And plunder they did."Federal probe
Ricks's arrest and the search of his home have sparked a federal investigation, largely focusing on Ricks's alleged production of child pornography in several locations, law enforcement officials said. Authorities said child pornography charges are easier to prove than sexual abuse and could still yield decades of prison time in the event of a conviction. The FBI's Washington Field Office said it is policy not to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.
Authorities are considering charges in federal courts in Maryland and Virginia, based on the materials found at his Maryland home and on a laptop Ricks was carrying with him when he was arrested in Manassas. If convicted this week on the local charge in Manassas, Ricks would be registered as a sex offender and would not be able to teach again.
"He has spent his entire adult life preying on underage males," said Manassas Police Chief Douglas W. Keen. "He has been able to stay one step in front of the system, moving out of the area and changing jobs before he was caught."
Unwittingly, Ricks has provided authorities with a running narrative of his life, in the form of the piles of journals that date to his teen years. FBI agents and local police have been interviewing potential victims identified in those journals, and they are tracing his steps to the late 1970s, when they think it all began.
"It is clear from what I've seen so far he would have his attention focused on one or more young people at a time," said Jonathan G. Newell, Caroline County state's attorney. "It was cultivating relationships and pushing the envelope. He had a little bag of tricks and a lot of experience using them."
Abby Ricks said she couldn't believe it when she learned of her husband's secret life, something he hid from her "as an actor and a master manipulator."
"I was totally shocked and felt betrayed, victimized and used," she said in response to written questions. She has filed for divorce and is cooperating with police.
As school administrators examine their policies and procedures and regret they didn't catch on to Ricks sooner, many say there is simply no way to screen out everyone. Especially those who know the system.
"When something like this happens, it reflects on all of us and hurts us to the core," Pope said, starting to cry. "You will never know the angst professional educators go through when they read about this and know one of their own is responsible. There is not a teacher who will not go back now and say: 'Did I miss something? Was there something I should have picked up on?' . . . My job is to protect these children."
Even those who knew him best, including his wife and close friends, might have felt something was wrong but gave him the benefit of the doubt.
"It's a pattern," said Clark, Ricks's longtime friend. "And it happened and it happened and it happened. What's the matter with us blind people? He did it right in front of us. I saw it happen, but I didn't see Kevin for what he is."
White reported from Copenhagen, Federalsburg and Washington; Harden reported from Oguni and Seoul; Buske reported from Danville and Washington. Staff writer Michael Alison Chandler and staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.