RICHMOND, Calif. - A Richmond charter school teacher has been arrested and charged with 29 counts of lewd acts with minors, including statutory rape, officials say. Her victims were seven boys, ages 15 to 16, the Contra Costa County District Attorney's office says.
Anessa Paige Gower, 35, faces multiple charges of child molestation. She was taken into custody by the Richmond Police Department with assistance from Sacramento County Sheriff's office at Sacramento International Airport upon returning to California from Hawaii with a companion on April 6. She is currently in custody at Contra Costa County Main Jail in Martinez. Since her victims are minors, their names are being withheld.
Paul Graves, the Contra Costa County deputy district attorney who supervises the sexual assault unit, described the charges as "some sex-related, some social media communications related, and inappropriate contact with minors."
The biology teacher at Making Waves Academy, located at 3045 Research Drive, is alleged to have committed acts of sexual nature with the boys between October 2021 and February 2022, the Contra Costa County District Attorney's office said on Friday.
Students reported her to administrators, who alerted Richmond police, authorities said. Police opened an investigation on February 18. The number of known students she allegedly violated grew from two to seven.
Victims and witnesses told investigators about a number of incidents involving inappropriate touching, and sharing sexually graphic photos over digital platforms in this case.
Investigators executed search warrants to access electronic data exchanged between Gower and students, and determined she shared sexually graphic images with them.
"Anybody that you respect, they shouldn't have open lines of communication regardless," Graves said. "There's boundaries that we should keep, and so parents just need to continue to be vigilant on what their children are doing."
According to Richmond police, Gower's bail is set at $1.2 million.
Making Waves told KTVU, Gower worked at the charter school for about three and a half months from October to February.
The academy's Chief Executive Officer Alton B. Nelson Jr. released a statement on Friday.
"During the course of an investigation into allegations that one of our teachers violated school policy, we learned of additional highly concerning allegations involving that teacher’s conduct. We immediately shared that information with authorities who are reviewing the matter. That teacher is no longer employed by Making Waves Academy and we have reached out to parents, students and faculty to provide support where it might be needed. At this time we can make no further comment," the school's statement read.
Gower is set to be arraigned on Monday, April 11 at Contra Costa County Superior Court.
In 2017, Ronald Guinto, a math and science teacher at Making Waves Academy's middle school, was convicted of molesting 15 students, most of them boys ages 11 and 12 who attended the school's youth program Guinto ran. He is serving a life sentence in prison.
Emma Goss is a reporter for KTVU. Email Emma at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @EmmaAudreyGoss or Facebook @EmmaGossKTVU or ktvu.com.
KTVU's Henry Lee contributed to this story.