NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - A search warrant obtained by WECT reveals a parent reviewing messages on their child's phone is what ultimately uncovered a high school teacher's alleged sexually inappropriate behavior with his students. The newly obtained warrants from the arrest of Michael Kelly contain accusations similar to those leveled by students he taught more than a decade ago.
**WARNING: THIS STORY CONTAINS GRAPHIC DETAILS***
According to the search warrant, "the parent of Victim 1 notified the FBI that they had located what they believed to be child pornographic images" on the teenager's cell phone.
On Feb. 2, the FBI interviewed the 15-year-old victim. The victim told federal investigators that the image on his phone "depicting the juvenile in sexually explicit conduct, was sent via [text] message from Victim 1 to a teacher at the Isaac Bear Early College High School." The victim identified that teacher as Mike Kelly.
As a result of this tip and subsequent discoveries, Michael Kelly was arrested on Feb. 6 for indecent liberties with a student and sexual exploitation of a minor. Kelly has worked as a high school teacher for New Hanover County Schools since 1992.
The initial forensic review of the victim's phone failed to locate the text message in question. The student told investigators during a follow-up interview on Feb. 5 that "prior to the forensic examination of [the phone] they deleted several text messages that they believed would upset their parents."
During the follow-up interview, the student also told investigators that "[d]uring the beginning of the 2017 school year, Victim 1 and other students of Isaac Bear Early High School engaged in sexual conversations with…Kelly, in his classroom during their lunch period. Michael Kelly discussed his sexual interactions with women, as well as at least one incident where he and a male friend watched pornography and masturbated at the same time. During these conversations, the discussions about the size of Michael Kelly's penis and the penis size of other Isaac Bear students were also mentioned."
According to the search warrant, the victim said that Kelly was a member of a Snapchat group with other students from Isaac Bear. The victim told investigators that members of this group shared pictures of their penises via social media.
"Victim 1 also disclosed an incident during the second semester in 2017, Michael Kelly slid his hand onto Victim 1's buttocks," the warrant explains. "Victim 1 described the touching as sexual in nature and not as a 'sports pat' or accident."
The student said on a separate occasion, he went with Kelly into the school's student restroom. After urinating, the victim said Kelly intentionally showed him his penis.
During March and May of that semester, the victim said Kelly showed him a picture of his penis on his cell phone. The victim was able to describe distinctive features of Kelly's penis.
A review of cell phone records showed Kelly had exchanged more than 250 text messages with Victim 1 between May 2017 and January 2018. Further review showed Kelly exchanged more than 500 text messages with at least four telephone numbers believed to be associated with Isaac Bear students, including some whom Victim 1 had identified as being part of the Snapchat group with Kelly.
On Feb. 6, the FBI interviewed a second victim, who is 16 years old.
According to the search warrant, that student told investigators that "he was approached multiple times by Mr. Kelly during a 'power-lunch' period in Mr. Kelly's classroom. On 2-3 occasions, Mr. Kelly shielded his phone from the view of other students and showed Victim 2 a pornographic image on his cell phone."
Victim 2 also told detectives that Kelly had sent him Snapchat messages several times. All of the pictures were close-up shots of male genitalia. The student said "most, if not all of them were of the same white male." The student described the penis in the picture as having the same, distinct characteristics as Victim 1 had described to investigators when referring to Kelly's penis.
Investigators used the information obtained from these interviews to secure a warrant to search Kelly's home. During the raid on Feb. 6, authorities seized cell phones, laptop computers, SD cards, and thumb drives.
Prosecutors said in open court during Kelly's first appearance that child pornography had been found on devices during the raid on Kelly's home. So far, Kelly has only been charged with sex crimes connected to Victim 1, but prosecutors said an additional five minors were involved in the investigation, and more charges are likely in the near future. He remains in the New Hanover County Detention Center under a $1 million bond.
After Kelly's arrest, former students of Kelly from his days as a teacher at Laney High School came forward to say that he had been sexually inappropriate with them in and out of the classroom as early as 2003. A parent filed a formal complaint about Kelly's behavior that year, but she says her concerns were ignored.