They called him “Mr. K.”
Timothy V. Krupica came to Rockville’s Meadow Hall Elementary School in August 2009 and quickly became one of the most well-liked teachers there. He showed an infectious enthusiasm for everything from the solar system to Thomas Jefferson. He often began class the same way — by shaking his students’ hands as they walked in.
According to police, Krupica’s interest in his students didn’t stop there. They say that four girls, all 11, have accused Krupica of fondling them in the classroom and forcing them to touch him inappropriately — on one occasion by using his signature handshake. Krupica is charged with child sexual abuse and several other sex offenses.
Krupica, 30, of Glen Dale, W.Va., turned himself in to police last week after the second two students had come forward, and he has been placed on paid administrative leave while the investigation proceeds.
But the impact of the case continues to reverberate among Meadow Hall’s teachers and families, dividing a small community into three camps: those who believe passionately in Krupica’s innocence; those who defend the accusers; and those who are urging patience while the case goes through the justice system. The lines have been starkly drawn, with some attacking the accusers and even their parents, and others lashing out at Krupica’s defenders for forgetting that the welfare of children should come first.
The case also has placed a spotlight on the Montgomery County school system, which has been inundated with inquiries from parents but which is bound by privacy and child-welfare laws and liability concerns and can say little to the public.
“I really wish I had some crystal ball that would tell me what was true and what was not,” said Denise Fredericks, who has a fourth-grader at Meadow Hall. “The system has to be biased in favor of children, and I hope that the system does the appropriate investigation and finds out the truth.”
County police have provided few details about the case. Krupica was arrested Feb. 21 after two of his students alleged that he touched them inappropriately during school beginning in September. Two other students came forward in early March with similar accounts of abuse, prompting additional charges to be filed against Krupica last week.
Charging documents allege that Krupica fondled one girl outside of her clothes while she was finishing a quiz at her desk. Another allegation states that Krupica began to shake a girl’s hand but instead grabbed another and forced her to touch him inappropriately before she could pull away.
Police said that not all of the facts of the case have been made public. The schools, too, confirmed little.
For a vocal group of parents, however, there is no doubt that Krupica is innocent. They have sent him and his family hundreds of e-mails and scores of handwritten notes as well as care packages filled with books, candy and gift cards.
Those rallying behind Krupica say he gained their trust through countless acts: He swiftly learned how to tend to a child with a chronic medical condition; he called the home of a student who seemed out of sorts, which led to the revelation that he’d been bullied on the bus; he gave parents a firm handshake every time he met them, just as he did with their children.
“We put cards in the mail at least twice a week,” said a parent of a former student who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case. She cited a few messages from her son to his former teacher: “ ‘Hey, Mr. K — I’m 6’1” this week’ and ‘Outdoor ed was great.’ ”
Supporters have also promised to pack the courtroom at Krupica’s hearing, set for April 26. They have discussed the possibility of raising money for his defense. They have created an e-mail group list to discuss the case and posted supportive comments on various online forums. And they have met with his brother Troy, who came from the family’s native West Virginia to Rockville last month. He said his brother is not married and has no children.
Some supporters have also made harsh, even vitriolic comments about the accusers and their parents, sharpening the divide in the community. Even those who are unsure of Krupica’s guilt or innocence have expressed bewilderment at the certainty some parents feel — and their seeming lack of sympathy for the 11-year-old accusers.
“I was and am amazed at the negative reaction to the girls,” said the parent of one accuser. The Washington Post generally does not name juveniles who are believed to be victims or their parents.
Another accuser’s parent said much the same: “I support the parents’ right to defend someone, just disappointed that they would choose to do so in this manner,” she said. “I look forward to Mr. Krupica’s day in court next fall when all available facts are presented to a jury. I trust the trained professionals that were assigned to this case, and I’m a bit overwhelmed by the amount of evidence they were able to gather.”
Krupica’s supporters — including parents and staff members — say they have good reason to question his guilt. Among other sources, they point to remarks by Cabell Lloyd, the school principal, who met with parents shortly after Krupica’s arrest in February.
According to Carol Gangnath, whose son was taught by Krupica and who believes he is innocent, Lloyd said at that meeting that other students and adult staff members were in the room when incidents were alleged to have taken place. Gangnath is president of Meadow Hall’s parent-teacher association but said she was not commenting on its behalf.
Gangnath said she and other parents at the meeting were stunned at the explanation — how could such abuse take place in plain view without many other children seeing it, too?
“He was never alone with these girls. It’s just common sense — it doesn’t add up,” said Dana Moffett, another parent.
Lloyd declined to be interviewed for this article. The school and police declined to confirm that the alleged incidents happened while others were in the classroom, although charging documents describe two incidents that two alleged victims say they saw happening to the other girls who came forward.
Krupica’s attorney, Jeffrey Harding, also declined to comment on the case. Schools spokesman Dana Tofig confirmed that Lloyd met with parents, but he declined to discuss the specific allegations.
Krupica’s supporters are partly emboldened, they say, by the case of Sean Lanigan, a teacher in neighboring Fairfax County who was acquitted in 2010 of charges similar to those Krupica is facing. In that case, the young accuser admitted that she held a grudge against the teacher for threatening to discipline her bullying behavior. In other words, supporters say, teachers are sometimes wrongly accused.
Krupica’s brother Troy reached out to Lanigan to speak to him about the case. Lanigan “just wanted to express his sympathy and emotion because he knows exactly what Tim is going through right now,” Troy Krupica said.
“It’s so hard — every teacher lives in fear of this,” said Julie Good, a teacher who worked full-time alongside Krupica at Meadow Hall before retiring in January. Good said she and others at Meadow Hall believe that no matter the verdict, Krupica’s teaching career is over.
“If they prove this, I would be so shocked,” she said. “But . . . I don’t want to cast doubt on these little girls.”
Krupica was released from Montgomery jail last week after posting $100,000 bail. He has been charged with four counts of sexual abuse of a minor, five counts of third-degree sex offense, three counts of fourth-degree sex offense and one count of attempted third-degree sex offense.
Dan Morse and Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.