JACKSON Co., NC (WSPA) – An evening custodian and substitute bus driver for Smokey Mountain Elementary school has been fired after an incident involving inappropriate contact with a minor in Georgia, according to Jackson Co. Schools Interim Superintendent Kimberly Elliot.
Elliot says administrator were made aware of 48-year-old William Pruitt’s arrest in Columbus, Georgia last night.
The Sylva Hearld reports that Pruitt is charged with sexual exploitation of children, according to jail records.
Elliot says the arrest is not connected to any Jackson Co. students.
Pruitt’s arrest was part of an online undercover investigation by the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
The say “Operation Hidden Gaurdian” was a five day operation centered in Columbus, GA.
The 21 people who were arrested ranged in age from 22 to 55.
The GBI says the suspect traveled to Columbus with the intent to meet a child for sex.
The goal of “Operation Hidden Guardian” was to arrest persons who communicate with children on-line and then travel to meet them for the purpose of having sex. In addition, the operation targeted those that are willing to exploit children by purchasing sex with a minor. On-line child predators visit chat rooms and websites on the internet, find children, begin conversations with them, introduce sexual content and arrange a meeting with the children for the purpose of having sex. The children these predators target are both boys and girls. Since 2014, the Georgia ICAC Task Force has arrested over 120 people in similar operations.
Investigator say they had more than 600 exchanges with people on social media and internet platforms.
They say the subjects in 400 of those exchanges initiated contact and directed the conversation toward sex.
They say the exchanges involved websites used for dating, socializing and even those used for classified advertisement.
Some of the people ceased communication when they were told they were talking with a minor.
Some continued to communicate and almost 40 cases were established that met the threshold for arrest and 21 were arrested, according to GBI.
Some of the suspects introduced obscene or lewd content and often exposed the undercover officer to porn or requested the child take nude or pornographic images for them, according to investigators.
The following people were arrested and charged in Muscogee Co., GA, according to GBI:
Austin Tyler Pierce, Columbus, 26, car wash attendant
Reginald Kiiani Crowell, Pittsview, AL, 36, unemployed
Jonathan David Jenkins, Columbus, GA, 23, treatment operator
Brian A Cocoran, Columbus, GA, 42, unemployed
Ji Won Kim, A/M, Atlanta, GA, unemployed
Derrick Lamart Smalls, 38, Phenix City, AL, military instructor
Robert Alan Moore, 31, Ledonia, AL, tech specialist
Collis Dwight Eaton, 48, Midway, AL, electrician
Kenneth Jordan, 29, Columbus, GA, research assistant
Edwin Nieves, 55, Columbus, GA, customer service worker
Ke Song, 24, Auburn, AL, student
Christopher McGowan, 32, Mechanicsburg, PA, industrial mechanic
Jarrod R. Long, 27, Columbus, GA, city maintenance worker
Jimmy Cobb, 35, Columbus, GA, mechanic
Uthemes Taylor, 30, Columbus, GA, forklift driver
Michael Andrew Everett, 22, Columbus, GA, unemployed
Harold Bates, 35, Selma, AL, pipe welder
Dereck C. Weldon, 30, Columbus, GA, unemployed
Gary D. Whitfield, 28, Columbus, GA, unemployed
William Pruitt, 48, Franklin, NC, school custodian
Eric K. Menefee, 50, Opelika, AL, unemployed