April 4, 2007
A former Western Albemarle High School teacher is being accused of engaging in sex acts with his students.
"He was shy until he got to meet us all, then he was outgoing," said Western Albemarle senior Bryan Brookins, describing Neal Willetts, 26.
Willetts is facing federal charges for engaging in sex acts with minors and for sexually exploiting children.
Just last year, Willetts was Brookins' social studies teacher, so Wednesday's news came as a shock.
"If I needed help with something, I'd go straight to him and he was like okay, fine. He'd stop eating his lunch to help kids with their work," said Brookins.
Federal prosecutors said Willetts victimized eight students at various schools. His first victim was allegedly a high school student in Hawaii.
In 2005, the UVa graduate began teaching at Western Albemarle High School, where prosecutors say he engaged in sexual acts with two male students, then with another student at Fluvanna High School.
"Like all my classmates never thought that he'd be like this, I mean he's a fun guy to be around in class and everything. Make class fun," said Brookins.
Outside of class, on an online profile site, Willetts listed more than 50 current high school students as "friends."
Prosecutors say he also used the internet to send pictures of one victim to try to entice other students.
According to testimony, the students may have been willing participants. However, prosecutors say this teacher was in a position of authority, making it a crime.
"In my opinion, I think it's wrong, like, for me to hear that a teacher is doing this to students, I mean I don't think it's right," said Brookins.
Willetts taught several grade levels at Western Albemarle before resigning last summer.
Willetts' attorney and parents were at the hearing Wednesday, fighting for his release on bond. A judge denied that request.