61ºF

Teacher charged with soliciting minor

David O'Neill tried to meet underage girl for sex, deputies say

LAKE CITY, Fla. – An Alachua County teacher is facing sex charges after he tried to meet up with an underage girl for sex in another county, according to the Columbia County Sheriff's Office.

David Austin O’Neill, 33, of Gainesville, is charged with traveling to meet a minor and solicitation of unlawful sexual activity with certain minors. He has been placed on administrative leave by the Alachua County School District, which released the following statement:

"Obviously we are very disturbed by the charges. The employee has been placed on leave pending the outcome of the investigation and any criminal proceedings. In the meantime, we have informed parents at the schools about the situation and what they can do if they have any information that could help with the investigation."

O'Neill was arrested Saturday when he arrived at a prearranged meeting place in Columbia County and found deputies waiting there, instead of the girl.

Deputies said the investigation into O'Neill began on March 10, after two female students at Columbia High School told a school resource deputy that a man who used to be their teacher at Lake City Middle School had contacted them through Facebook, sending them each a friend request.

The reported contact made the students uncomfortable, but did not reach the level of criminal activity, deputies said.

The same day, O'Neill contacted a third girl, sending her a text message, according to the deputies. She told her father, who called the Columbia County Sheriff's Office.

“That’s what boggles the mind,” CCSO spokesman Murray Smith said. “This was not an operation that had been in place for a long time. This happened that day and the detectives, who are very good at what they do, jumped on this very quickly.”

The girl and her parents did not know O'Neill, deputies said, adding that after the detectives initiated an investigation into the allegations, it became apparent O’Neill knew the girl was a minor. O’Neill’s communication was explicit and unlawful, because he solicited sexual acts from the girl.

“I’m proud of the detectives and school resource deputies, who quickly brought this investigation to a successful end,” Sheriff Mark Hunter said in a statement. “The protection of our children is a priority and we will act swiftly to ensure their safety.”
 
Smith said O’Neill pretty much set himself up and confessed after he was caught. He’s being charged with two second-degree felonies in the investigation.

“We understand there may even be more than that. We are investigating three cases in our county, but there may be more,” Smith said.

O’Neill, who previously taught in the Columbia County School District, has taught in the Alachua County School District for the last two years. Smith said because of that, his office needs the help of parents and students.

“He could be the guy next door, literally,” Smith said. “There’s always a chance that he has done this in the past and there are other victims.”

Any potential victims and their parents are asked to call the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office at 386-752-9212.

O’Neill is being held in the Columbia County Jail on a $175,000 bond.