Falsely Accused, Sean Lanigan Attempts to Reclaim His Life

PHOTO: Sean Lanigan and his wife Karin with children Briana, Kylie, and Daniel on Christmas in 2009. Sean Lanigan was charged with two felonies, then exonerated, but he still struggles to pay the legal bills he incurred while defending himself.
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After being exonerated of molestation charges last year, Virginia teacher Sean Lanigan said he felt "like someone lifted an elephant right off my back."

The courtroom erupted in cheers, and several people began to cry, including himself.

"I don't cry very often and I can say I shed a few tears in that moment when I was able to embrace my life," said Lanigan. "I thought, 'Ok, finally some justice was done, and I'm gonna get my life back.'"

But what seemed like the end was only another beginning.

Nearly a year after he was acquitted, the 43-year-old physical education teacher is still struggling to reclaim his reputation and repay 90 percent of his legal bills, especially now that he no longer has a fulltime job.

Last spring, Lanigan was in a different frame of mind, trying to find a way to explain to his children what he was going through.

In 2010, a 12-year-old female student falsely accused Lanigan of allegedly trying to lay on top of her in an equipment room.

One of Lanigan's three children is the same age as his accuser, and another is a year younger.

"If you had asked me last May would I be standing in my shoes right now, still stressed out, seeing a therapist, worried about the situation, I would have said you're crazy," said Lanigan, who lives in Centreville, Va.

'I'm Going to Make Him Pay'

Prior to being charged with two felonies, Lanigan had a sterling reputation at Centre Ridge Elementary School, where he worked for 13 years teaching elementary school P.E. He also coached a high school boys' soccer team and various club teams in the area.

Then in December 2009, after giving a verbal warning to a 12-year-old girl after she misbehaved on a school bus, the girl reportedly told her friends, "Mr. Lanigan's a jerk," according to court records reported by The Washington Post.

Then she said, "I'm going to make him pay."

The girl had been part of the Centre Ridge safety patrol team, a group of about 80 fifth and sixth graders whose job it is to make sure the other kids on the school bus are behaving.

As head of the safety patrols, Lanigan received an email from a worried parent saying the girl was bullying kids and using inappropriate language. Lanigan warned the girl that her behavior was inappropriate.

Ten days later he says the girl's behavior continued, and another teacher spoke to her.

Then, in mid-January, the girl and a friend of hers began telling people that Lanigan had tried to lay on top of her in the equipment room, on a stack of blue tumbling mats, saying he would "treat her like a queen."

The friend claimed to have witnessed the whole thing.

The accuser's name is not being used by the media because she is a minor.

Soon, Lanigan would face 40 years in prison.

Called To The Principal's Office

After the school principal found out about the accusations, the police were called in.

And on Jan. 20 of last year Lanigan was pulled out of class, brought to the principal's office and subsequently interrogated for two hours. For the first half hour, however, he wasn't even aware as to why he was there.

"Half hour into it [detective] Nicole Christian said, 'You have no idea why you're here do you?'" Lanigan recalled. "I said 'No I don't. Please explain to me. What is going on here?'"

That's when he says they told him what he was being accused of.

He says the conversation ended when they asked him to take a polygraph test at which point he said he would willingly take one, but he also wanted to see a lawyer.

"They said if I didn't do anything I shouldn't need to talk to a lawyer," he said.

Shortly afterward, they took his keys and his school badge.

On Jan. 29, he was charged with abduction and aggravated sexual battery and he went to jail where he stayed for four days until he was released on $50,000 bail.

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