A former Manassas elementary school employee who forged close relationships with boys he met at school and in a Manassas neighborhood pleaded guilty to 22 sex crimes Monday, accepting responsibility for abuses that spanned decades and involved eight victims.

Steffon Rodney Christian, 48, stood in loose-fitting jail whites and quietly repeated “guilty” to each of the charges in Prince William County Circuit Court. The abuses — including sex acts with preteen boys and teenagers — included episodes dating to 1981.

Although Christian could face as much as two life terms plus 210 years in prison, prosecutors recommended that he receive a sentence of 20 to 30 years and agreed to drop an additional 45 charges.

Christian began a career at Baldwin Elementary School in Manassas as a kindergarten aide in 1981 and later became an assistant librarian. In addition, he ran an after-school open-gym program and the school’s safety patrol, and he also met boys through summer parks and recreation activities.

Each position afforded Christian access to the school, where some of the abuses occurred. Other abuses happened in his various residences. Christian resigned from the school in 1999, after rumors of his inappropriate relationships had begun circulating.

Steffon Rodney Christian (Courtesy of Manassas police)

The pleas came on the same day that the high-profile sex-abuse trial of Jerry Sandusky began in Pennsylvania, a striking coincidence given that the massive publicity surrounding the Sandusky case is why Manassas police and the FBI learned about Christian’s long history of sex crimes. A victim who saw the coverage of the Penn State abuse scandal contacted Manassas police in November, setting off an investigation that authorities said turned up at least 10 victims.

“In the fall of 2011, upon seeing extensive media coverage of the Sandusky matter in Pennsylvania, [a victim] decided it was time to come forward and tell the truth,” said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Kristina Robinson, who prosecuted the case. The victim described abuses in the mid-1990s that included graphic sex acts.

The victim’s “parents had divorced, and Steffon Christian began to offer him solace and companionship,” Robinson said. “The sex abuse followed, and progressed.”

Robinson said in court Monday that police monitored a phone call between the victim and Christian shortly after the initial report last year. The call confirmed the past abuse, and Christian was soon arrested.

The Washington Post generally does not identify victims of sex crimes.

Robinson called Christian a serial offender who repeatedly forced young boys into sexual situations. She said that his early offenses included violence but that he later used video games, role-playing games and “magical thinking” to manipulate boys.

Some boys were victimized dozens of times, she said. In an elaborate scheme in the early 1980s, Christian abused three brothers ages 11 to 13.

One of the brothers, now in his 40s, attended Monday’s hearing and called the plea an important first step toward closure. Two other victims attended the hearing Monday, and authorities said some want to testify at Christian’s sentencing, which Circuit Court Judge William D. Hamblen set for Sept. 27.

Christian, looking thinner than when he was arrested, spoke only to give short answers to Hamblen’s questions and enter his pleas. One of his defense attorneys, Kimberly Irving, said after the hearing that Christian accepted the pleas to enable the victims to begin to move on.

“He took the pleas to start them on a path of healing,” Irving said.

The plea agreement prevented what probably would have been an emotional trial for the victims, who would have been asked to recount decades-old abuse that Robinson said had, in some cases, gone on to “affect all the elements of their lives.”