Police believe Melissa Sue Bonkoski thought with a little cleverness she could avoid detection.
The Owen J. Roberts High School science teacher had become obsessed with one of her former students and wanted desperately to communicate with him. “Whatever you do, please don’t shut me out,” she said in a text message sent in March. “I’m begging you.”
To keep from being discovered, she bought a ‘burner’ cellphone that would be used solely to pass texts and make phone calls to the 16-year-old.
“I thought I was being smart,” Bonkoski later told a Pennsylvania state trooper who assisted the Chester County Detectives investigating the complaint of harassment against her. She did not think the phone could be traced back to her — though it took investigators only a short period of time to trace the T-Mobile account to her, and discover that the calls she placed to the teenager came mostly from near her home and the school, according to an arrest affidavit.
On Thursday, Bonkoski was charged with counts of felony institutional sexual assault, unlawful contact with a minor, unlawful use of a communications facility, and corruption of minors. She was arraigned and released on $80,000 unsecured bail, pending a scheduled Aug. 17 preliminary hearing in South Coventry district court.
The case remains under investigation, and authorities are asking anyone with information about the matter to contact the school district or the county detectives.
According to the criminal complaint against Bonkoski, 38, of Stowe, the teacher had allowed the student to touch her breasts, and kissed him multiple times in her car. She also spoke with him about oral sex, although they never reached that level of intimacy, and let him sleep over at her house, in her bed. The student, who was a student in Bonkoski’s class his freshman year, was not named in the complaint.
The school district learned of the criminal charges Friday, according to an announcement emailed to the community from Acting Superintendent Anthony Costello.
“The school district has fully cooperated with the investigations conducted by those agencies regarding the allegations, and will continue to do so throughout the criminal prosecution of this matter,” Costello wrote.
Bonkoski was asked to resign her position at Owen J. Roberts High School, and complied. “Upon learning of the filing of these charges, the school district asked for, and received, Bonkoski’s immediate resignation from her employment as a teacher,” Costello wrote.
Costello concluded by noting that the school district “will not be providing any further public comment at this time due to the prosecution of the active criminal case.”
According to Bonkoski’s biographical information, she was in her second year teaching Earth science at the high school, and most recently “spent several years teaching science in Miami, Florida and before that in West Philadelphia.”
“Ms. Bonkoski attended La Salle University and graduated with a bachelor’s in computer science and a minor in music. She earned her master’s degree in education also at La Salle University and is currently working on her second master’s degree in science education from Montana State University. While Ms. Bonkoski was teaching in Miami, she also taught marine science at the Miami Seaquarium,” according to the district website.
According to the complaint filed by county Detective Christine Beiler, her office received a complaint on March 24 that the alleged victim was getting harassing text messages from Bonkoski. When she spoke with the student, he said that Bonkoski had been his teacher his freshman year, and although she initially would send him messages about schoolwork, they became more frequent and personal in nature.
In a follow-up interview on July 21, Beiler said the teenager said that he was upset with himself because he had “cheated” on his girlfriend with Bonkoski. He said their initial contact became “extreme” when she began giving him rides home from school in 2016. They kissed more than one time, which left him “in shock” because he “never thought he would kiss a teacher.”
“He was worried that he wouldn’t get rides home anymore if he stopped kissing (Bonkoski,)” the complaint states. He said he slept at her house sometime in 2015, and discussed oral sex. At some point he tried to stop the contact, but he said that Bonkoski would continue to call and send texts.
Detective Joseph Walton met with the teenager’s girlfriend and her mother and the girl showed him texts she had captured from Bonkoski to the teenager in March. One read that she “was kinda hoping you would’ve called me back last night. I really need to talk,” while another referenced a March fundraiser at the school that she had wanted to attend with him.
Walton was able to get the cellphone number and track it down through the phone provider. It was apparent, Beiler wrote, that the cellphone was used only to communicate with the teenager.
Bonkoski was confronted by a state police trooper in a July 11 interview, and admitted to her conduct with the teenager, according to the affidavit. “When the victim stopped talking to her, she started to ‘bombard’ him with memories of him visiting her classroom,” the complaint states.