A former teacher at Cedar Ridge Intermediate School in Branson has been charged in Christian County with sex crimes against a child.
Thomas Louis Schembri III, 40, is facing one count of sexual exploitation of a child, a class A felony which could result, upon conviction, of him being sentenced to life in prison.
According to court documents, Detective Wammack of the Christian County Sheriff’s Office received a call from the father of a 9-year-old girl on Sept. 20, claiming she said her private reading tutor had taken inappropriate photos of her.
The victim was taken to the Child Advocacy Center in Springfield for a forensic interview the following day. The victim said she was sitting in a chair with her legs up when Schembri stuck his phone between her legs, under her knees, and took a picture. The victim said she didn’t object to Schembri’s actions at the time because she was afraid it was “going to cause a problem.”
The victim said her stomach “went uncomfortable” but felt better when Schembri removed the phone. The victim said she then sat cross legged and Schembri told her to put her legs down. She said Schembri took a “peek” under her dress and then put his phone between her legs and took another picture.
The victim described the phone as being black, maybe an iPhone, with a circular button. She said there was a black case on it with a holder on the back for credit or debit cards.
Detective Wammack made contact with Schembri at Cedar Ridge Intermediate School on Sept. 23, where Schembri was employed as an English Language Learner instructor. The detective said the iPhone described by the victim was in the possession of Schembri when the meeting took place.
The phone was taken from Schembri and placed in a location where he could not alter the contents of the phone. Wammack said Schembri was “visibly nervous” and he could “see his hands shaking.”
The detective told Schembri the reason for the visit and he denied taking any photographs of the girl. When asked if he had something on his phone he shouldn’t have on the phone, Schembri replied he didn’t think so. He indicated he had four photos of a female’s “crotch” area, but he said the female in the photographs was of age, and were sent to him about a month before the meeting.
After denying the detective the right to search the phone, Schembri requested a lawyer.
Investigators then contacted the victim’s father to get a description of the clothing the girl was wearing on the day of the alleged incident. A search warrant for the phone was issued and the device was taken to the Springfield Police Department for a forensic download. Springfield police staff called Wammack the evening of Sept. 23 stating they found three images.
The position of the girl in the photos was considered a match by investigators to what the victim said was her body position, and the clothing matched what the father had told investigators.
The photos were time stamped around 11:09 a.m., and taken on Sept. 19. The victim’s father stated the tutoring took place between 10:00 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.
Detective Wammack stated he felt the photos taken by Schembri were “predatory in nature” and it is typical for child predators to have more than one victim. At the time of the probable cause statement, a full download of Schembri’s phone had not been completed.
Missouri Casenet states Schembri is represented by Springfield area attorney Adam Woody. The prosecution will be conducted by Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Kristen Tuohy. Branson Tri-Lakes News contacted Woody’s office but was told they have not released any statement concerning the arrest.
Schembri has been released on $50,000 bond and is under house arrest with a GPS monitor. He is prohibited from using the internet, including phone via internet, and may only leave his home for court, doctor visits, or attorney visits.
Branson Public Schools confirmed Schembri was employed with the district from Aug.11, 2017 until he tendered his resignation effective immediately Sept. 28. The district also released this statement:
“The District is aware of this matter, but cannot comment on personnel matters, as they are confidential; however, we take these matters very seriously and have cooperated fully with Christian County law enforcement during their investigation, and have addressed the situation in accordance with Board Policy and the law. We have been given no reason to believe that any current or former students are connected to, have been impacted by, or are victims in any manner. Our priority is the safety and well-being of District students and staff, and we are committed to providing a safe and successful learning environment in Branson Public Schools.”
Schembri’s next hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 20, in front of Judge Douglas Bacon.