Justin Glawe, Forum News Service, Published January 30 2013
Ex-Bemidji teacher charged with sex crimes found dead
John Thorn Wangberg, 58, was found dead about 3 p.m. Wednesday by a family member at his home.
Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp said his department is investigating the death, but no foul play is suspected at this time.
Wangberg was a teacher in the Bemidji area for 30 years before he resigned in March of 2011, just two days before the first of three victims of alleged sexual abuse came forward to police.
On Jan. 23, Wangberg was arraigned on two felony counts of sexual conduct in the second degree and a gross misdemeanor charge of non-consensual sexual conduct in the fifth degree.
Following his appearance in front of Beltrami District Court Judge John Melbye, Wangberg paid a $5,000 bail, and was released from custody without being booked into the Beltrami County Jail.
The charges allege that Wangberg was engaged in sexual contact with victims between the ages of 5 and 7 on school property. The first victim reported the alleged abuse on March 16, 2011 – two days after Wangberg resigned from the Central Elementary School in Bemidji, according to a search warrant application filed by police and obtained by the Pioneer.
Prior to his resignation Wangberg’s work computer was seized and on it, an officer with the Bemidji Police Department allegedly found images of young girls in bikinis. According to the search warrant application, the first victim told police that Wangberg had shown the images to her saying, “when you grow up you can be in a bikini and look like my daughter.”
It wasn’t until two other victims came forward – one on March 6, 2012 and the third on Dec. 4, 2012 – that a search warrant was issued.
Wangberg was scheduled to appear in court March 4 for an omnibus hearing.
Members of his family could not be reached for comment.
During Wangberg’s arraignment, his attorney, John Undem, said the $5,000 bail requested by Beltrami County Attorney Tim Faver was “obscene.”
“He’s a well respected member of this community,” Undem said. “If he was going to flee he would have done so by now.”
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