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Teacher resigns amid conduct investigation

Less than two weeks before the start of a new school term, a popular 30-year-old teacher who had worked for several years in the McDuffie County School System is out of a job amid an ongoing criminal investigation by a state law enforcement agency, The McDuffie Mirror has learned.

Philip Bradley Pirkle recently resigned from his teaching duties at both Thomson Middle School and Thomson-McDuffie County Junior High School, according to McDuffie County School Superintendent Jim LeBrun. The school superintendent confirmed Mr. Pirkle's mutually-agreed-upon resignation during a telephone interview with the newspaper last Friday. Board of Education members were expected to formally accept the resignation this week.

"No one has been determined to be guilty of any charges at this time, but given my understanding of where they are in the case, the best thing that could have happened would be for him to no longer be employed with us," Mr. LeBrun said.

Earlier this month, Mr. Pirkle, who lives in Thomson and had served as band director at both schools, became the focus of a criminal investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. At the center of the probe is his reported involvement with a 14-year-old girl through a social networking Internet site this summer, court records show.

As of Tuesday, there had been no criminal charges filed against Mr. Pirkle, authorities said. Repeated efforts by the newspaper to interview Mr. Pirkle by telephone and at his residence have been unsuccessful.

A search and seizure warrant was executed at Mr. Pirkle's Johns Road residence on July 20 by GBI Special Agent Charles Kicklighter. The search warrant was signed by Toombs Judicial Circuit Chief Superior Court Judge Roger W. Dunaway, Jr. The warrant allowed Agent Kicklighter, who was assisted by Special Agent Steve Foster, to search, seize and analyze computers and any related equipment, discs, or information storage mediums.

Specifically, authorities are looking into whether or not there exists evidence pertaining to sexual exploitation of a child, which would constitute a violation of the Computer Pornography and Child Exploitation Act of 1999. Agent Kicklighter is a member of the GBI Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC).

Several items were seized from Mr. Pirkle's home. The list of items included: an external hard drive, a desktop computer, a laptop computer, a media jump drive and a total of nine DVDs and CDs, records show.

The current investigation got underway July 15 - a couple of days after the mother of the girl told the McDuffie County Sheriff's Department that her daughter had been on the website, MySpace, communicating with a schoolteacher whom she identified as Mr. Pirkle.

"The communications were of a sexual nature and it was discussed that they wanted to meet each other for sex," according to Special Agent Kicklighter in court records related to the search warrant.

Agent Kicklighter interviewed the girl at her residence on July 16. The girl said she and Mr. Pirkle are only friends and that she has known him for approximately four years. When she was in the sixth grade, Mr. Pirkle taught her band.

According to court documents, Mr. Pirkle, and the girl began chatting through their MySpace profiles on June 28 at 5:34 p.m. Their last document contact was on July 8 at 2:44 a.m.

In their initial contact, the girl - who found Mr. Pirkle's MySpace profile through a friend's profile - complimented her former band teacher after seeing him jogging earlier that day. He responded by saying he believes that he's doing the world a favor by "running half naked," providing "eye candy for the ladies."

The conversation evolved in the next few days, covering topics including the difference in their ages, Mr. Pirkle's marital status, her relationship with an older woman, his relationships with other students, and his interest in staying out of jail. Eventually, the pair agreed to meet, saying they would use the ruse of the girl taking "flute lessons" from Mr. Pirkle at his home if anyone asked.

The former middle school/junior high school band director also provided the girl with his cellular phone number and told her that texting him was the best way to communicate.

There was no mention as to whether the girl and Mr. Pirkle ever met.

In interviews with investigators, the girl claimed that the MySpace messages between her and Mr. Pirkle were just them joking with each other. She indicated that the last time she went on MySpace was when she signed on to her grandmother's computer July 8. The girl said she had not spoken with Mr. Pirkle by telephone or communicated with him by text messages. The girl said Mr. Pirkle did not have her phone number.

Web posted on Thursday, July 30, 2009

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