A McMinn County, Tennessee, woman turned herself in Tuesday night after being indicted on nearly two dozen counts related to sexual contact with minors.
The charges include 18 counts of aggravated statutory rape. Nine victims were believed to be involved, and authorities suspect there could be more, according to a news release from the McMinn County Sheriff's Office.
Melissa A. Blair, 38, of Englewood, also faces four counts of human trafficking by patronizing prostitution and one count of solicitation of a minor. Bail was set at $100,000, which Blair's attorney said she will make, according to a sheriff's office news release. The case will be set for McMinn County Criminal Court.
"This type of case is difficult and shocking even to seasoned detectives, and I want to commend our staff for the many hours of identifying, locating and interviewing victims and their families, collecting physical and electronic evidence, as well as the many days of putting together the search warrant and subsequent case file," McMinn County Sheriff Joe Guy said in the release. "But most importantly, we want to offer support and resources to the victims and their parents as we move forward."
Guy said his office received a referral from the Tennessee Department of Children's Services on Dec. 9 that accused Blair of having sexual encounters with male juveniles who were students at McMinn Central High School. An investigation began immediately, he said, and as interviews progressed, additional information came to light, as well as additional victims.
On Dec. 15, detectives with the sheriff's office went to Blair's residence and spoke with the suspect, which was quickly followed by the execution of a search warrant at the residence. A letter from Director of McMinn County Schools Lee Parkison was also served on Blair, banning her from school property or any school activities.
"The search warrant revealed additional evidence, and our investigation grew larger as more parents and victims contacted us," Guy said. "We were finally able to present the case to the grand jury on Feb. 15, upon which the indictments were issued."
Guy said the incidents in question occurred from spring 2020 to late 2021. He said seven of the victims are still juveniles.
"We suspect there may be additional juvenile victims, and we encourage them or their parents to contact us," the sheriff said in the news release. "There may possibly be other victims who are now adults, and we also encourage them to contact us. It appears that Ms. Blair was communicating with the juveniles on social media, arranging meetings with them and trading items for sexual encounters with them."
Guy thanked Parkinson and District Attorney General Steve Crump and his office for assistance.
"We all share a common desire for the safety and welfare of our schools and students," Guy said.
- Compiled by Lew Gilliland