SOUTH ST. PAUL, Minn.-The families of South St. Paul teacher Aric Babbitt and his husband spoke publicly Wednesday for the first time about alleged sexual abuse of teen boys made against the couple before they turned up dead last week in Washington of an apparent murder-suicide.
"Our families want to express the sincere grief and sadness we are feeling for the innocent people affected by the actions of Aric Babbitt and Matthew Deyo," Dana Babbitt said. "We are devastated by the pain and suffering they have caused, and we pray for the healing of those families involved."
Dana Babbitt was superintendent of the South St. Paul school district from 2003 to 2007 and previously was the principal at South St. Paul High School.
When asked for additional comment Wednesday, Babbitt added: "We're going through hell. This is a complete shock to us."
Aric Babbitt, 40, and Deyo, 36, knew they were under investigation for allegations of them having sexual contact with teen boys before they left Minnesota around Aug. 16, according to court documents released this week.
The couple was found dead Aug. 25 on Lopez Island, in the San Juan Islands in the northwest corner of Washington. A shotgun and a suicide note were found near the bodies.
The men had not been charged with a crime. Babbitt was a 1998 graduate of Concordia College in Moorhead.
Additional details contained in an application for a search warrant Wednesday show the extent of the couple's alleged sexual contact with the boys - two of which were Babbitt's former students at Lincoln Center Elementary.
Babbitt had been a teacher at the elementary school since 2002 and had taught grades 1, 2, 5 and 6. He was supposed to teach fourth grade this school year, which starts Tuesday.
He was put on paid leave by South St. Paul schools after the district learned of the allegations Aug. 17, Superintendent Dave Webb said.
The sexual contact between the teen boys and Babbitt and Deyo happened at Minneapolis hotel rooms on two different weekends; at Babbitt's cabin in Crow Wing County; and at the couple's South St. Paul house.
In most cases, the boys told investigators, Babbitt and Deyo provided them with alcohol and marijuana.
The allegations first came to light Aug. 14 when a 16-year-old boy and his parents went to South St. Paul police to report "an ongoing sexual relationship" with Babbitt and Deyo. The couple was friends with the boy's parents, and Babbitt was the boy's former elementary school teacher, volunteer work supervisor and mentor, according to court documents.
The boy said Babbitt had agreed to be a mentor for him when he came out as gay to his family.
Further investigation and interviews revealed other underage boys had experienced similar sexual activity with the couple.
Unsure how to say no
One boy said the initial sexual contact with Babbitt and Deyo began shortly after he turned 16 in April, when he had unprotected sex with both men in a Minneapolis hotel room.
"(The boy) said he did not want to do this, but felt unsure about how to say no," a court document read.
A few weeks later at Babbitt's cabin, the same boy said, he was given hard liquor and became intoxicated. After passing out, he awoke on a cabin floor to Babbitt having sex with him, the document read.
Babbitt and Deyo also rented a hotel room for three nights for the boy and a friend of his for the Twin Cities Pride Festival the last weekend of June. The boy told investigators Babbitt became angry when he refused to drink alcohol and have sex with him, the document read.
Both teens said Babbitt and Deyo encouraged them to take nude or nearly nude photos and send them through an app that would erase the contact after a short period of time, the document read.
One boy told investigators he had a "breakdown" and that he told his parents what was happening. He did not want to have sex with Babbitt and Deyo and felt pressured to do so, the document read.
Another boy told police that Babbitt was his second-grade teacher and that he helped him through his parent's separation. He used to consider Babbitt a father figure, the document stated.
But a few months after he turned 16, in late 2013 or early 2014, Babbitt and Deyo invited him to their house. They gave him beer and marijuana, the document read. Later on, while Deyo was giving the boy a massage, he touched the boy's private parts, while Babbitt watched.
Two or three days later, Babbitt asked the boy to come to his classroom after school. When the boy told Babbitt he was upset with what had happened, Babbitt said "it never had to happen again, but that they should keep it between them," the document read.
School reaches out
On Wednesday, Webb, the current superintendent of South St. Paul schools, called the allegations "a tragic event" for the district, which serves about 3,700 students.
Webb reiterated that the district had not received prior complaints or allegations against Babbitt.
The district's internal investigation led by its legal team is ongoing and includes communication with families to ensure there are no other students alleging sexual contact with the couple, Webb said.
"We continue to communicate openly to all of our families as much as we can," he said.
The district also will continue to provide counseling services "so if there's a family in need that they are coming to get the support in the days and weeks and months and years ahead," Webb said.
On Tuesday night, Lincoln Center Elementary Principal Mike Fugazzi called family members of the students who were scheduled to have Babbitt as a teacher this school year.
"I know he spent four hours on the phone, answering questions," Webb said.