Nearly 200 parents gathered tonight in the gym of the Underwood Elementary School in Newton to grapple with how the man their children knew as “Mr. E.” could be the same person arrested this week on charges that he sexually assaulted a young girl and filmed it.
David Ettlinger, 34, of Allston, has been a teacher in Newton public schools for 12 years. For the last four, he’s taught second grade at Underwood. Parents described him as charming, committed to his students both in and out of the classroom, and strict about homework.
But a darker picture has emerged.
On Wednesday, Ettlinger pleaded not guilty in West Roxbury District Court to charges of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14 and posing a child in a state of nudity, according to the office of Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley.
He pled not guilty on Tuesday to related charges of possession of child pornography in Brighton District Court.
Ettlinger was allegedly part of a global child pornography ring called Dreamboard, and is facing a charge in federal court in Louisiana of participating in a child exploitation enterprise in connection to his Dreamboard activities, according to a Suffolk District Attorney spokesman.
According to Newton Police Captain Paul Anastasia, there is no evidence that Ettlinger harmed any child in Newton.
At tonight’s meeting, Michael Jellinek, MD, President of Newton-Wellesley Hospital and Chief of Child Psychiatry at Mass General Hospital, answered questions from distraught parents who wondered how to explain to their children that a man they loved and trusted had allegedly done terrible things to other children.
“It is a real loss,” Jellinek said. He advised parents to talk calmly and openly with their children, and to let them grieve.
“When something hits like this out of the blue, it makes everyone feel vulnerable,” he said.
Underwood Principal Kathleen Zimmerman said that the school is in the process of terminating Ettlinger, who has been placed on paid administrative leave.
“Pending a hearing” in early February, she said, “he will be terminated.”
Newton School Superintendent David Fleishman said that there will be a community meeting next Tuesday at Newton North High School.
“There’s a lot of angst in our other schools,” he said. “This will be ongoing.”
In addition to teaching second grade at Underwood, Ettlinger worked as a camp counselor in the 90’s and rock climbing teacher until about 2008 for Newton’s Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center, according to Carol Trager, vice president of strategy and marketing. There have been no allegations of abuse, she said.
Newton parents are shocked by this week's events.
“I’d seen him around, he seemed like just an average teacher. That’s the scariest part of all,” said Newton parent Marisa Morrill, who has a child in fifth grade who was not in Ettlinger’s class. “We never thought that anything would be wrong at Underwood.”