February 20, 2002
Confronting a Teacher Put Officials in Danger
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Officials of a Catholic school in Omaha say they didn't realize at the time how much danger they were walking into by confronting a teacher suspected of sexually abusing children.
Their mistake, according to experts, was not calling police first.
In the hours leading up to the confrontation, teacher Mike Florea had heard students at the St. Vincent de Paul School trading rumors of a sex scandal, according to the Omaha World Herald.
That led Florea to buy a rifle. The Herald did not make clear whether Florea brought the weapon to his meeting that night with school officials, but it reports that he did threaten to harm himself. Two officials who escorted him home talked him into handing the rifle over to them.
They realized only later how dangerous the situation could have been.
"At the moment, there wasn't a concern," said the Rev. Dennis Hanneman, pastor at the church affiliated with the school. "The gut instinct is: We've got to get him away from our kids."
But Kenneth Lanning, who spent most of his 30 years at the FBI fighting crimes against children, said the officials, faced with a situation they had never seen, unwittingly endangered themselves, their students, and the investigation.
"You have untrained people, however well-intentioned, essentially treading in an area that they're untrained to deal with," Lanning said.
And Omaha police Sgt. Dan Cisar said that while many people have an instinct to make sure inflammatory allegations are true before reporting them, police prefer to be called first, in fact, "the minute any allegations are even brought to light."
Hanneman told the Herald that he hopes others can learn from the school's unpleasant experience. "Maybe that'll be the grace out of this whole thing," the pastor said.
Florea, 35, has been charged with having a dozen of his male junior-high students masturbate for him at his apartment numerous times since the summer of 2000. The allegations surfaced when a parent whose child is not one of the victims overheard kids talking, Hanneman said.
Principal Patty Buttell and the Rev. Ralph O'Donnell, an associate pastor, were stunned by the claims, said Hanneman, who was out of town that day. They interviewed three boys who said the story was true.
Florea caught wind of the allegations as they rippled through the school, said his lawyer, Bob Sivick. Florea finished teaching for the day, Sivick said, and then purchased a .22-caliber rifle, which can be done without a waiting period.
Buttell and O'Donnell arranged to meet Florea at the school at 8:30 p.m., Hanneman said, at which time they fired him.
He said Florea then talked about killing himself and eventually agreed to check himself into a hospital for mental care that night. Buttell and O'Donnell took him to his apartment to get his insurance card. There, he handed them his gun.