News Coverage

Please click on the link below to see WBTV Channel 3 Kay Johnson's Cover Story on the Children's Advocacy Center of the Blue Ridge.

April is National Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month and local advocates want to highlight the importance of providing services for victims under one roof.

MOREAdditional Links

"Children prior to advocacy centers were having to tell their story multiple times – to the doctor, DSS workers, police. They would end up telling a story 6, 7 times," Nurse Beth Browning said.

Browning is a sexual assault nurse examiner and works alongside Forensic Interviewer Selena Moretz at the Children's Advocacy Center of the Blue Ridge.

The organization serves Avery and Watauga counties and work with local law enforcement agencies, the Department of Social Services, the District Attorney's Office and other agencies to decrease trauma to children and build more solid cases in court.

Statistics show more than 600,000 kids were victims of child abuse nationwide in 2011. Close to 2,000 died as a result of abuse or neglect.

"Everyone of these cases is high profiled..these kids are experiencing things they shouldn't…no one case is more important than another," Browning said.

"A lot more people are realizing child abuse is a problem in the community so they are making reports," Moretz said.

After a report is made, Moretz interviews a child in a kid friendly setting about the possible abuse while police watch from another room.

"A lot of times the child doesn't want to leave so you know you made an impression," Moretz said.

Advocates here say new centers are popping up across North Carolina but want to see more funding dedicated to places advocacy centers so every community eventually has one.

Advocates say having a month dedicated to child abuse helps them focus on educating others on something they see everyday. But they also say prevention is key in keeping kids from ever coming through the doors. They are especially trying to get more awareness in schools so kids know what is and is not appropriate. And experts say, don't stay quiet about suspected abuse, even if you can't prove it. Follow your gut and report it.

North Carolina has a mandatory reporting law that states anyone who suspects abuse must report it.

Copyright 2013 WBTV. All rights reserved.

Investigators honored after elementary teacher busted, convicted in child porn ring





"The determined and coordinated efforts of five partner agencies of the North Carolina Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force brought to justice a former elementary school teacher who had secretly exploited children for years," a release stated.

Fifty-four-year-old Michael Andrew Alexander, a 3rd grade teacher at Hildebran Elementary School, was part of the ring which was broken up in June 2012.

Investigators discovered some of the videos had young girls wearing Hildebran Elementary t-shirts. The videos were then traced to Alexander, who was a teacher at the school for the past seven years.

Charlotte FBI Special Agent John D. Wydra, Jr. was assigned to the case and reviewed the material, some of which involved female children younger than 12 years old. 

Special Agent Wydra quickly traced the evidence to Alexander. Wydra then partnered with Casey Drake, Special Agent with North Carolina's State Bureau of Investigation and Detective Scott Carico, with the Burke County Sheriff's Office, and quickly identified the female children depicted in the images.

Selena Moretz, of The Gingerbread House Child Advocacy Center, conducted in three weeks more than 40 forensic interviews of identified victims. 

Investigators confronted Alexander with the evidence and he admitted involvement and provided the investigators the child pornography he had produced.  

Alexander pleaded guilty to three counts of felony first degree sex offense with a child and three felony counts of indecent liberties with a child.

Eric R. Bellas, Assistant District Attorney of North Carolina's  25th Prosecutorial District, was involved in the investigation from its initial stages.  Bellas participated in all of the victims' interviews and met with the victims' parents during the adjudication process. 

Bellas expedited Alexander's plea and sentencing in state court to lessen the emotional impact of a prolonged litigation on Alexander's victims.

He was sentenced to 49.5 years behind bars and is currently serving his sentence in the North Carolina Department of Corrections.   The case was resolved in just 29 days.

The group was given the award as the Justice Department paid tribute for extraordinary efforts to recover missing children, rescue children from abuse and prosecute sexual predators during its annual commemoration of National Missing Children's Day.

"The achievements of these honorees, and the stories behind them, remind us that it takes someone very special to do the work that they do," said Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West.

"Days, weeks, months, and as we saw in Cleveland last week, even years can pass between a child's disappearance and her recovery.  It takes tremendous faith, but more importantly, it takes incredible resolve and resourcefulness to pursue those cases to certain resolution."

"As our Missing Children's Day honorees demonstrate, community members who remain alert and respond, rescue children every day," said Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs Mary Lou Leary. 

"Through support for programs such as AMBER Alert and Internet Crimes Against Children task forces, our office remains committed to assisting communities across the country in protecting the lives and safety of children."

"On this day each year, we pause for a few moments to remember those children who are lost and the families who have been torn apart apart by this unspeakable tragedy," said  OJJDP Administrator Listenbee.

"We are also here today to celebrate those children and families who have been reunited and to honor the dedicated citizens who work tirelessly to bring these missing children home."





Copyright 2013 WBTV. All rights reserved.