By BOB JOHNSON and PHILLIP RAWLS
ALABASTER, Ala. - Children used to clamor to get into Danny Acker's classes, and he was so popular he was once named his elementary school's Teacher of the Year.
But authorities in this well-to-do Birmingham suburb are offering a starkly different picture: a serial child molester who police say admitted sexually abusing more than 20 girls - some as young as 9 - over the course of a long classroom career.
Troublesome clues emerged when Acker was investigated by a grand jury in the early 1990s, but he continued teaching. When he retired after 25 years, he was so well regarded that the district kept him on as a substitute bus driver.
Now the community is questioning the trust it placed in Acker after a former female student alleged that Acker molested her in 2009. Police arrested him Thursday and on Friday added another count involving a second former female student.
District Attorney Robby Owens said the case remains under investigation, and more charges are likely as police encourage any other victims come forward.
Deputy Police Chief Curtis Rigney said Acker admitted molesting the first girl who complained and many others, but he wouldn't give names.
"We're barely scratching the surface here," Rigney said. "There is so much information we don't know."
Acker is jailed on $545,000 bond. His attorney did not return phone calls or an email seeking comment.
School officials and former students in the tight-knit community were shocked because many people knew Acker as the likable teacher known for driving around in his green Volkswagen convertible.
"He was my favorite teacher I ever had," 21-year-old Jared Robertson said Friday.
He said Acker always had a smile and made class fun. He said students divided teachers into "nice" and "strict" groups, and everyone considered Acker "nice."
"He was never creepy or anything like that," Robertson said.
School officials said students sought to get in Acker's classes.
"He was well-respected and often requested by parents. We did not have any reason to expect anything like this was going on," district spokeswoman Cindy Warner said.
Acker, 49, is the son of a longtime county commissioner, Dan Acker. His is married, has children and helped with a church youth group in addition to teaching.
His brick home stands across the street from a Southern Baptist church and day-care center. Officials at the center declined to comment Friday, as did a man who answered Acker's front door.
He taught at three of Alabaster's four primary schools: Thompson Elementary, Creek View Elementary and Thompson Intermediate, which are all operated by the Shelby County school system.
District officials said Acker changed schools as new buildings went up and classes were shifted.
The only blemish on his record occurred in October 1992, when he was placed on leave because a child accused him of touching her improperly. A grand jury reviewed the case and did not return an indictment.
The school board decided unanimously in February 1993 to return him to his fourth-grade classroom at Creek View. His fellow teachers chose him that year to be their Teacher of the Year.
School officials said they never got another complaint.
A former Creek View student, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case in the small town, said Acker liked to hug girls and made a point of keeping up with former students for years.
"He was always one of my favorite teachers because I only had him for an hour a day, but he cared about us all so much," said the former student, who is now grown.
Associated Press Writer Jay Reeves in Birmingham contributed to this report.