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Somerville officials outraged at child pornography charges

SOMERVILLE — City officials expressed shock and outrage Friday at child pornography allegations against a former Somerville grade-school teacher, and urged any parents with concerns to contact authorities.

A day after Josh Wairi, a fifth-grade teacher in Cambridge, was charged by federal authorities with sharing child pornography and secretly videotaping children undressing, Somerville officials said the accusations were “beyond comprehension,” and that counselors would be on hand to help students and parents.

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“Allegations like this strike fear and doubt into your hearts,” Mayor Joseph Curtatone said at a morning press conference. “We have so many questions. We want to know our children are safe.”

Wairi, 27, taught in the Somerville public schools for several years before working in Cambridge.

According to federal investigators, Wairi uploaded images and videos of children being sexually exploited to share with others, and told authorities he possessed hundreds of pornographic images.

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He also admitted to videotaping children changing clothes “on more than one occasion,” both with a cellphone and a hidden video camera, according to a criminal complaint filed in the case. He used the video camera in a locker room, authorities said.

Investigators did not specify where the alleged videotaping occurred, and Somerville officials said they had “no concrete information” about the locations.

“This is an active investigation,” said Somerville’s police chief, Charles Femino. “We have limited information at this time.”

Additional officers will be available to field calls from concerned parents, he said.

Tony Pierantozzi, the superintendent of the Somerville schools, said Wairi worked as a substitute teacher from 2005-2009, then became a student-teacher during the 2008-2009 school year.

He then taught fifth- and sixth-grade at the Arthur D. Healey School from 2009-2012.

“There were absolutely no reasons to indicate there was a concern,” he said.

Wairi grew up in Somerville and graduated from Somerville High School, he said.

Law enforcement officials began investigating Wairi in July 2013 after receiving a report of suspected child pornography from America Online (AOL).

Officials then linked his e-mail address to his computer’s IP address.

On Thursday, authorities searched Wairi’s Somerville apartment and found cameras, several computers, and “many photographs of children.”

There was also a Disney-themed shower curtain in the bathroom, the complaint stated.

Wairi told investigators he had posted an advertisement on Craigslist for baby-sitting services.

Curtatone urged the public to contact Somerville police with any information that could assist the investigation, and said authorities would release more details as they become available.

The US attorney’s office declined to provide additional details about the allegations, saying the investigation is ongoing.

Wairi’s lawyer could not be reached for comment.

Wairi, who taught at the Graham and Parks School in Cambridge, has been placed on administrative leave.

On Thursday, superintendent Jeffrey Young called the allegations “deeply disturbing.”

“Our first and foremost priority is ensuring the safety of every child,” he said.

Community meetings about the allegations will be held at the school during and after school vacation.

At a community meeting in Somerville Friday, several parents said they were stunned and alarmed that Wairi had taught their children.

One student, who attended the forum with her mother, said her younger sister had been in Wairi’s class, but saw no sign of trouble.

She said she appreciated the school being upfront about the allegations.

“Nobody expected this,” she said, declining to provide her name. “It’s just a shock.”

Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.
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