By Jesse Wood
Dec. 18, 2013. Amy Tilley Bower, the former fifth-grade teacher at Cove Creek Elementary School who was charged with two counts of “sexual activity with a student” and two counts of “indecent liberties with a child” in August, plead guilty on Wednesday.
Four of those charges were consolidated into two, and presiding Judge Phil Ginn sentenced Bower to 16 to 20 months with an additional 16 to 20 months suspended. She is to serve five years supervised probation after she is released from prison and pay nearly $7,000 in restitution for counseling of the two young males, who were victimized during separate two-year periods when they were between the ages of 12 to 14 years old.
Bower would also pay for any other counseling needed in the future, and register as a sex offender for 30 years. Ginn said that the initial four felonies charged came with a total possible maximum sentence of 164 months.
To investigators and the affected families, Bower, 45, of Vilas, admitted to having engaged in inappropriate sexual activity with the students during the years of 1998 to 2000 and 2004 to 2006. She was not the teacher of the students as the students attended other schools.
During the hearing, Bower cried when she read a prepared statement, apologizing to the affected young men and their families.
“I fell to a low place. I apologize to families of these young men. You treated me like I was your own family and I betrayed your trust. I had no idea what harm my actions would cause,” Bower said, adding that she now understands the harm caused when she looks at her own four-year-old daughter.
“I was in a dark place for so long,” Bower reiterated.
Bower was first employed as a substitute teacher, mostly at Bethel Elementary, in the 1996-97 school year, according to Watauga County Schools spokesman Marshall Ashcraft. From 1997 and five years thereafter, she taught at Bethel on an interim basis. From 2004 to 2009, she worked at Mabel Elementary, and from 2010, she worked full-time at Cove Creek after four years of summer school, according to Ashcraft.
Bower resigned from her fifth-grade position at Cove Creek on Aug. 19, 2013 – one-day prior to Watauga County Schools learning of the investigation that the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office began in late July.
At the time, Supt. David Fonseca said, “If the allegations are true, the behavior violated the trust of students, the ethics of the teaching profession, our school system policies, and the law. We take such possible misconduct very seriously. We have fully supported and cooperated with the investigation of this case by the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office and we are grateful for their work.”
The school system noted, in the summer, that if the Bower were to be convicted that WCS would initiate action to revoke her teaching license.
During the hearing on Wednesday, Chief Prosecutor Britt Springer noted that Bower took advantage of her position of trust to betray the young men, affected families and members of the community.
“Most of all, they want to make sure no other kids have to go through what their kids have been through and their families have been through. Their families have been struggling because of these actions by Mrs. Bower,” Springer said.
Springer continued that the emotions have fluctuated from sadness and anger to betrayal.
“She used that trust to betray and betray them in a way that hurt them to their core. In talking with these families, the overriding emotion is not necessarily anger, but one of betrayal that they put their kids in her hands and [thought] they could trust her,” Springer said.
At the direction of Bower’s attorney David Freedman of Winston-Salem, roughly 30 people stood up in the back of the courtroom to show support for Bowers while the immediate families of the young men sat on the side of the courtroom of the state.
After the hearing, Springer said that families of the victims wanted Bower to come clean and admit responsibility, and Springer said that Bower did come clean to both the families and investigating officer Capt. Dee Dee Rominger of the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office. While Springer said that Bowers could have been exposed to lengthier sentence, that would have come at a price and the young men would have had to testify.
Springer said that the young men were not “emotionally strong enough” to take the stand and would have been re-victimized if that would have occurred.
“I feel justice is served,” Springer said. “Do I feel that these kinds of [charges deserve] 50 years in jail? Maybe. But it’s not the way our system works.”