Deonte Carraway was considered trustworthy by some — a man who did a good job keeping children entertained at the local recreation center and taking them to church on Sundays. To others, he seemed unusual— sometimes showing up as a volunteer at the elementary school near his home in pajamas and slippers.
But despite what many parents and neighbors thought about Carraway, one thing was constant, they say: The 22-year-old was often seen walking the streets of Glenarden, Md., in the company of young children.
Now, shock, anger and confusion have consumed much of the Prince George’s County city of about 6,000 residents after community members learned that Carraway was arrested for allegedly producing 40 pornographic videos featuring at least 10 youngsters.
Parents are demanding to know how Carraway apparently was left alone with students long enough at Judge Sylvania W. Woods Elementary School to produce the videos on school grounds and during the middle of the school day, as police have stated.
“He always had six or seven kids around,” said Neftari Argueta, whose children attend the elementary school where Carraway was a volunteer. “It’s a little strange.”
Carraway was charged Feb. 5 with 10 counts of felony child pornography and related charges in connection with videos he produced on his cellphone camera, Prince George’s County police said. Carraway has admitted to creating the videos, in which he sometimes can be seen or heard directing children between 9 and 13 years old to perform various sexual acts, police said.
A day after police announced charges against Carraway, the parking lot of Sylvania Woods Elementary was packed with worried, angry parents gathered for the school day.
Parents wanted to know the exact role Carraway had as a volunteer, who supervised him, how often he was at the school and whether there were previous complaints against him.
In an email, Sherrie Johnson, spokeswoman for the school system, described the situation as “very fluid” and said many of those questions were being looked into by law enforcement authorities.
A letter sent home with students Tuesday describes Carraway as a “former employee” and says he was charged with felony child pornography and sexual abuse.
The letter does not inform families that some of the alleged incidents took place at the school and during school hours. The letter also does not say that he had been an active, unpaid volunteer during this school year.
The three-paragraph letter says that the school system is shocked, that safety is a top priority and that employees are screened before they are hired — echoing much of what was in the school system’s statement Monday.
School administrators met with several parents Tuesday morning, and an informational meeting is planned for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the school.
The case — which some experts in sex crimes involving children say is unusual because of the number of alleged victims and its scope — is complex and will probably expand beyond the 10 victims police have already identified.
Police said that in addition to the elementary school where Carraway worked, children were filmed at the Glenarden Municipal Center, the Theresa Banks Memorial Aquatic Center and in private homes.
In less than a day, about 20 people have called a tip line that county police set up after announcing Carraway’s arrest, police spokeswoman Julie Parker said. “We’re encouraged that the community is responding,” she said.
The FBI, which is also investigating, also launched a tip line Tuesday.
Sgt. John Linton, a detective with the Computer Crimes section of the Maryland State Police, said many cases he investigates have a single victim. “That’s a significant case when you have 10 children,” as the charges contend, Linton said.
The reported scope indicates “that is not somebody who started yesterday. That is somebody who has been engaged in this behavior for a while.”
The investigation into Carraway began after the uncle of a student noticed a nude photo on the child’s cellphone and notified police.
The message — and several others police later discovered — was sent through Kik, an anonymous messaging app.
Parents and neighbors said that Carraway, who was also director of the Glenarden Voices of Youth Choir, was often seen in the company of children at all hours of the day. It remained unclear Tuesday whether the choir is affiliated with any larger organization.
If they didn’t see him with children at the school, parents and neighbors said, they would see him taking children to choir, escorting them from after-school programs or hanging out with them at a local 7-Eleven.
“Once I saw the picture, I knew who he was,” said a woman whose daughter attends Woods Elementary and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid identifying her child.
“He walked with a group of kids to and from school. I saw him many times,” the woman added.
A lifelong Glenarden resident who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to maintain her privacy said: “I’ve always known him to be with the kids and do an absolutely good job. It was very surprising to hear about what happened.”
Attempts to reach Carraway’s family were unsuccessful. Online court records did not list an attorney for him.
The Rev. Henry P. Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church of Highland Park, said Carraway joined his church when he was in high school and sang in the youth choir but eventually left. Davis said he doesn’t know whether Carraway had inappropriate contact with children from his church but said the church is launching its own investigation.
“Our prayers go out to all of the families who have been affected by this tragedy,” said Davis, who added that he plans to make an effort to see Carraway in jail.
In his online persona, Carraway portrays himself as an aspiring gospel singer and posted photos of himself reading a Bible. Images on his Instagram page often advertised his username on the messaging app, along with requests for people to “Kik me.”
“As we bring this year to a close I’m so proud that this year 2014 I got a job working with kids and I got a choir that has been a dream for me to direct and I just thank god for blessing me and 2015 I’m ready for you,” Carraway wrote on his Facebook page. “Start a new chapter.”
Investigators ask anyone with information about this case to call 800-CALL-FBI or 301-772-4930.