Winston-Salem, NC -- The math teacher charged with having sexual relations with two 14-year-old students is also accused of sending around 1,000 text messages to a third student.
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County spokesman Theo Helm said a parent accused Mark Mercer of sending the texts to their child. The parent could tell messages were from Mercer, though couldn't see what they said, Helm said.
The texts were reported to an assistant superintendent on Dec. 28 and the Forsyth County Sheriff's Department was notified. Mercer was suspended with pay by the district on Dec. 29.
Mercer, a math teacher at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, is charged with 29 felonies of having inappropriate relations with other two students. He faces charges of statutory rape, indecent liberties with a minor and sexual activity with a student by a teacher. The alleged incidents occured with two 14 year old girls, according to police.
"You are supposed to be able to trust your children with the teacher and that's the reason I was proud of Mark. He was one that looked as if he was trustworthy, that you could trust your child, your student to go out and he could coach and do things like that," said Octavia Thornton, Mercer's neighbor.
The felony charges are unrelated to the alleged texting. The texting allegations are being handled by the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office. Major Brad Stanley said there are no charges related to the texts at this point. Investigators will turn their findings over to the DA.
Stanley said his department is working with Winston-Salem police to determine if there is crossover between the cases.
According to Winston-Salem Police Captain David Clayton, the felony charges for sexual activity came after the 14-year-olds involved talked with their parents on January 2. He said the parents then reported the allegations to police. Mercer was arrested Tuesday.
Clayton called the conversations "courageous" and said it was "good parenting."
He couldn't comment on whether any texting was involved in the case involving the 14-year-olds, but he said parents should take proactive steps in monitoring their kids' technology.
Shavon McLean is a parent of three kids, including an 11-year-old. She said she does not allow them access to cell phones or social networking.
"They're growing up entirely too fast," she said of her kids' generation.
WFMY News 2 talked with more than a dozen parents waiting to pick up their kids at Jefferson Middle School. None would talk on camera. Several said their children have cell phones, and some parents said they check their kids phone for messages and pictures.
"There's a lot of dangers out there because so many pedophiles that are out here who are targeting children who are so innocent and they just don't understand the repercussions that can come from maybe linking up with the wrong person or peers," McLean said.
Cell phone companies have features allowing parents to control use. They can control the times the phone will work. You can block numbers for calls and messages, and program trusted numbers to allow only those numbers. With games, internet and music now popular features, you can put filters on the phone. Those tools may vary from company to company and may cost you. Chances are your cell company won't let you access texts, unless you read it on the phone itself, but you can go to your bill and see who your child is texting nd calling.
"I believe in old school values," McLean said.
For her, high tech tools for communication don't take the place of face to face talks.
"I talk to my children on a daily basis. You can't be with them 24/7, but I definitely believe in communicating with them, getting them to talk with you, developing that relationship to where they feel comfortable talking to you about anything and that's the only way. You have to keep that communication open with your children. You have to," she said.
Police haven't released a mugshot of Mercer because they don't want to influence any other alleged victims who may come forward and need to see a lineup," Capt. Clayton said.
Mercer is a volleyball coach at Jefferson Middle and assistant coach for the JV boys and girls soccer teams at Mount Tabor High School.
The school board will decide whether to fire him. Their next meeting is Tuesday, though it's unclear if they will decide what action to take at that meeting, Theo Helm said.
WFMY News 2