April 19, 2024

Since the publication of the article “Alleged child rapist working at a Richland elementary school had a long history of allegations and investigations for crimes involving children” in April’s issue of Tumbleweird, the editorial staff received more records related to Elias Huizar and investigations into his alleged inappropriate interactions and relations with underage girls.

The public records associated with this case can be found here: drive.google.com/drive/folders/1T4nC9COa6y76AyVYpYQIZFbZO9JqvISJ

Records from Union Gap police Detective Curtis Santucci

Santucci investigated two cases involving Huizar after an interview with his own department in Yakima in which Huizar revealed that he had begun dating his now ex-wife when she was a high school student in Sunnyside.

Santucci explained that Huizar’s estranged ex-wife was not a cooperating witness, and he was unable to establish probable cause (RCW 9A.44.093 Sexual Misconduct with a minor first degree).

Santucci, in the letter to Yakima Police Lieutenant Chad Janis, Internal Affairs, dated 1/14/2022, said:

“In her statement, she was willing to enter into a relationship with Huizar…. She expressed what appeared to be genuine concern about Huizar being arrested and what that would do for her safety. She mentioned often that Huizar is not of sound mind, has told her he hears voices, was short tempered and controlling of her actions.”

Huizar and his ex-wife met in 2009 when she was 17 years old, a high school senior at Sunnyside High School. Huizar was 24 at that time.

Huizar was assisting in the wrestling program, but according to the Sunnyside High School Human Resources, he was never employed as an official volunteer. This was common practice, according to the first page of Santucci’s letter dated 01/14/2022. Santucci wrote, “[Huizar] had returned to assist with the program she [his ex-wife] had participated in herself.”

Volunteer Policy Sunnyside

Jessica Morgan, Communications Director at Sunnyside School District wrote:

“[Here] you will find our current board policies for volunteers and student/staff interactions. Our coaches receive training about proper interactions with students, and our current practice is that volunteers are not unsupervised when interacting with students. All volunteers must go through background checks through the Washington State Patrol.”

Ms. Morgan was asked what the policy was when Huizar was an ‘unofficial’ volunteer — when Huizar allegedly began having a relationship with his now ex-wife when she was a student athlete.

Morgan answered in a follow-up email:

“Our practice and policy has been that all community members undergo a background check when volunteering with students. You can see from the policy I provided that we have had it in place since at least 2007. Can you provide the documentation you have that states he was a volunteer with us and in what capacity?”

Tumbleweird shared the Santucci report, but did not hear back from Ms. Morgan before we went to print.

Records from Sunnyside can be viewed here: drive.google.com/drive/folders/1LarccrsLt1kJxBT2ES7S6DWs-WgXpLg7?usp=sharing

Another underage person Huizar dated was mentioned by Santucci — a former Sunnyside school student that met Huizar when she was 15.

Both of these cases did not have sufficient evidence to charge Huizar with a crime. Also included in the report from Union Gap were the police reports from Dickenson, North Dakota detailing charges against Huizar that were later dropped.

Records from the State Attorney General’s office

A public records request was made to the Attorney General’s regarding the investigation into Huizar’s actions at Washington Hills Middle School when he was working as an School Resource Officer (SRO).

Bradley Graham, Senior Investigator Criminal Justice Division, wrote the report. The investigation was regarding “a report of possible sexual assault” involving a 12-year-old girl. (Note: Tumbleweird reported previously that the girl was 13.)

In the 105 page report, Graham details his investigations involving students that had reported allegations that Huizar was having sexual relations with the 12 year old on social media. The students also made written statements.

The 12 year old had told her friends that she had lost her virginity to Huizar in SnapChat messages. This was in November 2018.

In May 2019, Michael Durbin with the Yakima Police Department interviewed the guardian/grandmother of the child. Durbin said of the grandmother: “She did not believe the ‘poor officer’ did anything with [the child] and that she didn’t want to see the officer suffer harm for something that didn’t happen.”

In the report from the AG’s office, there are screenshots of SnapChats where the students are discussing ‘Jane Doe’ [the 12-year-old child] and Huizar. The kids discuss how Doe can lie and say her phone was hacked, and pretend that she didn’t send the messages regarding Huizar.

Later, we see the plan play out when Doe tells investigators her phone was hacked and she didn’t send the messages about Huizar taking her virginity. She denies the relationship.

Many of the students that were interviewed during the investigation said Doe talked about Huizar and their sexual relationship. One story the students reported was Doe telling them she had sex with Huizar in a janitor closet on campus.

In messages from Doe to a friend, Doe said she loved “the officer” and wanted to have sex with him but didn’t want to get pregnant. Her friend told her to get condoms.

In another message, Doe was depressed and threatened suicide over her friends going to the school principal about Huizar.

Vice Principal Hilton had asked for the SnapChat messages. Doe said she would “kill herself” and that her mom was going to send her to church school. She was worried kids at school were going to call her a slut. Doe also said she couldn't tell anyone that she was having sex with Huizar, saying: “I can’t talk especially with my family,” and Doe voiced concerns that Huizar could go to jail if anyone found out.

Doe and her friends decided to tell everyone it was a “prank” and that they made it up. However, in multiple pages of student interviews, the students talk about Huizar and Doe having sex, and how Doe said she planned to deny the relationship because she was worried about Huizar going to jail.

According to JoDee Garretson, Executive Director for Support, Advocacy & Resource Center (SARC):

“In the majority of cases I have seen at SARC, minors believe they are in ‘relationships’ when they are dating an adult. In these situations, the adults have groomed the kids and have them believing that the adult genuinely cares about them, wants to take care of them, and is filling an emotional need of the young person. Because of this, the child truly cares for the adult and doesn't want anything bad to happen to them. It can take a very long time for the minor to come to the realization that they were actually a victim of an individual who sexually assaulted them. It's very complicated.”

Comments from the Richland School District

Tumbleweird staff reached out to Richland School District (RSD) regarding Huizar on March 12. In the exchange that followed, RSD explained that according to their hiring practices, Huizar would not have been disqualified to work.

However, Shawna Dinh, the Public Information Officer for Richland School District, said in a letter to Tumbleweird:

“On February 8, 2022, the Richland School District also received notification from Yakima School District’s Human Resources Department that Mr. Huizar had no sexual misconduct notes while employed for their district.”

When Tumbleweird requested to see this documentation from Yakima School District’s HR Department, we received the following response:

“The Richland School District has reviewed your request and has determined that the records requested are exempt from disclosure under public records law for the following reasons:

 RCW 42.56.250(1)(B) – Employment and licensing.

(1) The following employment and licensing information is exempt from public inspection and copying under this chapter:
(a) Test questions, scoring keys, and other examination data used to administer a license, employment, or academic examination;
(b) All applications for public employment other than for vacancies in elective office, including the names of applicants, resumes, and other related materials submitted with respect to an applicant.

In a follow up email from RSD Public Information Officer Shawna Dinh regarding hiring policies with the school district, she provided answers to the questions we sent in March from their Human Resources department. 

Tumbleweird: How long does it take to process an emergency substitute certificate?
Richland School District: This is dependent upon how backlogged OSPI is. Generally, HR will apply for an emergency substitute certificate, then the sub will need to go into their OSPI account and complete the application and pay a fee. Then the District will put a rush on the certificate, as long as the substitute has current fingerprints on file with the state. This process has been done in a day, but generally 3–5 business days.
TW: Does a person apply and then they go through the emergency process?
RSD: An applicant would need to fill out the job application online and apply for a substitute position. If they meet the criteria for the position, HR will follow standard hiring procedures. This would include making sure their application is complete, and fingerprinting has been scheduled. HR staff would have them in to meet with me for a new employee orientation to fill out necessary paperwork. Once the background (fingerprint) check is completed and entered into our system, they are assigned an employee number and are able to begin subbing.
TW: Besides the fingerprints, what else is done for a background check?
RSD: References are required for all applicants; however, fingerprinting is the main source of the background check. Each applicant is required to fill out a “disclosure” form as part of the application. The disclosure is basically a criminal history questionnaire.
TW: When calling references, what questions are asked?
RSD: HR does not call references for substitutes unless there are “red flags.” However, nutrition services, custodial, transportation and other support services departments do call the references for each person they choose to hire. Each group would have their own list of questions that they ask.
TW: Does the district use internet searches when doing new employee background checks?
RSD: Internet searches are not done. The fingerprinting through the state is very thorough and it does report for WSP and FBI. This catches things that applicants fail to mention on their disclosure because they think the offense has dropped off their record.

On April 15, 2024, Kirsten Fitterer, Executive Director of Communication and Engagement at the Yakima School District, answered our inquiries about Huizar:

“Concerning your general inquiry, Mr. Huizar was employed with the Yakima School District as a wrestling coach for 2019 and 2020. In his capacity as a Yakima School District employee, no complaints were received concerning his conduct. When Mr. Huizar acted as a School Resource Officer (SRO), he did so as an employee of the Yakima Police Department and not as an employee of the District. Any questions about his conduct while acting as an SRO, should, therefore, be directed to the Yakima Police Department.

Readers can refamiliarize themselves with Yakima Police Department’s responses in the article “Alleged child rapist at a Richland elementary school had long history of investigations for crimes involving children” in the April 2024 issue of Tumbleweird.


(Added April 24, 2024)

In the wake of the tragedy on Monday (April 22), our community is hurt and outraged. We want to know how someone with a history of allegations of misconduct with minors ended up working at an elementary school and was able to murder two of the people he had abused. People are questioning who is responsible and how this was allowed to happen, as they should be.

We invite anyone who wants more information on this situation to look into the public documents we have made available here: https://tumbleweird.org/huizar-files, and to read the article we published a month ago, here: https://tumbleweird.org/elias-huizar

The entire situation came about because of a series of systemic failures that did not protect the most vulnerable members of our community. There is no single person or entity to blame — it would be easy to say that Huizar is the only one culpable here. But the reality is that there was a cascading series of failures along the way, and facts that would have taken Huizar out of the position to harm these children were concealed, allowing him access he should never have had.

There must be accountability, and there must be substantive change in these systems.

Tumbleweird is continuing to investigate aspects of the contextual environment that contributed to this tragedy, including the emergency substitute procedures and the lack of disclosure from Huizar's past employers about allegations against him. We need to take a hard look at how the safeguards we thought we had in place failed to protect Amber and Angelica — as well as any other child he may have come in contact with — from this dangerous predator.

There is no quick solution here. There is no way to bring justice to the people who are suffering. But that does not mean that there is nothing you can do.

Please read this excellent post from Brendan Quinn about the ways in which we can all help improve our community, and show up for each other (especially the children in our school districts): https://t.ly/Hvzaw

Improving the systems that allowed the abuse of minors to continue (and ultimately led to two deaths) will be a long, incremental process. We urge you to not get caught up in the 'sensationalism' of this story, and instead focus on the work it takes to keep something like this from happening again.

Tumbleweird will keep working. You keep working, too.
Follow us at https://www.patreon.com/tumbleweird

For more information about protecting children from predators, visit https://supportadvocacyresourcecenter.org/home.html, https://www.rainn.org, and https://www.childwelfare.gov