(LINCOLN, Neb.) — A 26-year-old Nebraska man accused of posing as a high school student at two different schools has been arrested on sex crime charges, police said.
Zachary Scheich, of Lincoln, faces three felony charges — two counts of sexual assault, use of an electronic device, and one count of sex trafficking of a minor — following what started as a fraud investigation, Lincoln police said.
Police began their investigation on June 1 “after being alerted about an individual impersonating a student,” Lincoln Assistant Police Chief Brian Jackson told reporters during a press briefing on Thursday.
The individual had enrolled under the name Zak Hess at Northwest High School during the first semester of the 2022-2023 year, before transferring to Southeast High School during the second semester, police said.
The purported 17-year-old Hess was actually determined to be 26-year-old Scheich, who had graduated from the Lincoln school district in 2015, police said.
“Mr. Scheich is approximately 5’4″, 120 pounds, and appears to have blended in with other students,” Jackson said.
Further investigation uncovered “multiple contacts with juvenile students” by Scheich using the name Hess, leading to his arrest on the sex crime charges, Jackson said.
The charge of sexual assault, use of an electronic device, could mean engaging with someone via a phone or computer, Jackson said, while an individual could be charged with sex trafficking of a minor “if you coerce or pay for certain items.”
Scheich was arrested and booked into the Lancaster County jail on Thursday. He was scheduled to be arraigned Friday afternoon in Lancaster County Court. It is unclear if he has an attorney.
Jackson said police are working to “identify the scope of his actions.” Authorities have not specified how many alleged victims there are amid the active investigation.
Since announcing Scheich’s arrest, police have received three calls from potential witnesses or victims in the case, Lincoln Police Department spokesperson Erika Thomas told ABC News Friday afternoon.
Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Paul Gausman told reporters Friday morning that they have identified “a number of people who are victims,” while urging anyone with information to come forward to police or the school district.
“There may be potential victims of this scenario that we aren’t aware of at this time,” Gausman said during a press briefing. “If there are those out there that have been victimized in some way or another we need to know about it,” he said.
The schools have social workers and mental health professionals who can provide any support to students who seek it, school officials said.
The school district sent out an alert to families at Northwest and Southeast high schools following Scheich’s arrest on Thursday, including a photo of the suspect, while also urging anyone aware of “concerning relationships” he may have had with students to come forward.
“This is an extremely serious situation; we are not taking this lightly,” Gausman said. “We understand the concern that this can cause.”
Scheich attended approximately 54 total days of school during the 2022-2023 school year, according to police. He began attending Northwest High School on Oct. 20, 2022, before transferring to Southeast High School on Jan. 12, according to the school district.
Scheich “exploited our enrollment process by using convincing, fake documentation to gain enrollment in our schools,” Gausman said.
The superintendent said he’s not aware of anything like this happening before in Lincoln Public Schools. He said he did not believe there were any red flags overlooked regarding Scheich’s enrollment, noting that the suspect presented “incredibly well-crafted, fraudulent documents.”
School officials said they are reviewing their enrollment processes and protocols in light of the incident.
Required enrollment documents are not verified and include a birth certificate, high school transcript, immunization records and a physical from a clinic, school officials said. All of Scheich’s documents appear to be fraudulent, according to Matt Larson, the associate superintendent for educational services at Lincoln Public Schools.
Scheich also appears to have provided a fake phone number and address, Larson said.
Scheich enrolled online, without a parent directly involved, Larson said. This is “not unusual,” but is something the school district will review and consider changing, he said.
The incident is one of several in recent months where an adult was arrested after allegedly posing as a high school student. In Massachusetts, a 32-year-old woman used fraudulent documents to enroll in three different schools during the previous academic year. A 28-year-old woman enrolled in a Louisiana high school as a ninth grader, a fraud that was also uncovered last month. In that case, the sheriff said she did so in order to learn English.
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