By J. Mike Blake and Ron Gallagher
CARY Countless students knew Bobby Peterson as an affable social studies teacher and award-winning girls soccer coach at Green Hope High School. On Monday, several said they found it heartbreaking” to hear about charges stating that he had computer images showing young girls in sexual poses.
“Everyone loved his class; everyone loved him,” said former team manager and recent Green Hope graduate Chandler McKinley.
Despite his popularity, Peterson, 43, seemed to live a solitary life, McKinley said. Players never knew whether he had a significant other and had no inkling that he lived with his parents until personal details about him were made public along with the charges.
His coaching statistics were stunning: Peterson’s teams had a 125-15-1 overall record from 2008-2013 and was 72-3 in the last three seasons.
But players often saw him eating alone in the same restaurant after games. He would wave, but not come over to chat.
While some thought him odd, McKinley said, everyone still felt comfortable around Peterson.
“He was never categorized as ‘creepy,’” McKinley said.
He also helped high-school aged club teams in the Capital Area Soccer League. In 2009, Peterson was coaching girls 14 and younger with the Capital Area Soccer League, while most recently he had worked with players 18 and younger.
CASL CEO Charlie Slagle said Monday evening that Peterson often coached with his league in the fall, and then coached high school soccer in the spring.
“We have never gotten any complaints about him in the past,” Slagle said.
He said Peterson is not scheduled to work with CASL this upcoming year, but that was something decided before the news of his arrest.
Peterson joined the Wake school system in August 2001. In addition to teaching social studies, he has been head coach of the girls team since March 2004, when he moved up from coaching junior varsity soccer.
During that time, the team got better with every season under Peterson.
Rise to national No. 1
The team won its first conference championship in 2009, and four years later was considered the nation’s best team.
The accolades for Peterson and the Green Hope girls’ soccer team have come often during the last two years.
He was voted the state 4A coach of the year in 2012 by the N.C. Soccer Coaches Association, and the team claimed the 2013 N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A state championship in May.
The team even made national headlines thanks to a 53-1 record during the past two years with an ongoing 28-game winning streak that helped earn the national No.1 ranking by EliteSoccerReport.com. The team was ranked No. 5 nationally after the 2012 season.
Off the field, he was viewed as a mentor who devoted his life to teaching and coaching.
“In the hallways he was always a smiling face, and one to say hello to, and someone that I felt confident – comfortable as well – going to talk to if I ever had any problems,” McKinley said.
At the same time, students noticed his unusual social tendencies. Peterson always sat alone at home girls’ basketball games, always several rows behind the bench, though no one remembers thinking it odd at the time, only recalling it after his arrest.
Detective Kevin West, a member of Cary’s cybercrimes unit, said in arrest warrants that on June 4 and 5, he had established that Peterson had six computer images showing unknown girls whose ages West estimated to be as young as 3 and as old as 11, with most estimated to be 5 to 8 years old.
In applying for the search warrant on Saturday, West said he had been using a national law enforcement database called the Child Protection System and maintained by authorities in Boca Raton, Fla., by the Florida State Attorney’s Office.
The system watches users of public chat rooms “known to be involved in child pornography trading” and records the Internet protocol addresses that show where each user is at that time.
The system is similar, West told a magistrate in the application, to the practice of having police sit on a public street to write down license plate numbers of cars that come to a location they suspect could be involved in crimes.
West said he checks for IP addresses associated with ⊗Cary – that was how he found a user who said in chats that he was 43 years old and was in Cary.
When West got a court order for Time Warner Cable to disclose the IP address West had found, it belonged to Robert O. Peterson, who lives at the same address as Robert J. Peterson, the coach. West wrote that he believes Robert O. Peterson is the coach’s father.
Peterson was arrested by Cary police early Saturday. The arrest came about two hours after police presented a search warrant at the house and seized a laptop computer, two iPhones, a Samsung phone and four flash drives.
The search warrant was returned to the Wake County Court Clerk’s Office on Monday morning.
Peterson was brought before magistrates at the Wake County Detention Center about 2:20 a.m. Saturday, warrants show.
Peterson, of 1113 Tarbert Court in Cary, faces six counts of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor, which state law says is a case in which someone “knowing the character or content of the material, … possesses material that contains a visual representation of a minor engaging in sexual activity.” Third-degree exploitation is a Class H felony, the second-lowest in the state’s system.
A person who answered the phone at Peterson’s home Sunday night said he had no comment, and a voice mail left on Peterson’s cell phone was not returned.
More ‘digging to do’
Capt. Don Hamilton, head of Cary detectives, said Monday that the investigation was continuing and could lead to other charges.
“We’ve got a lot of digging to do” on a seized computer and memory devices, he said.
Cyber-crime investigations can be “slow at times, tedious,” Hamilton said, noting that police recently filed charges based on evidence derived from computers seized in late 2011.
Wake County schools spokeswoman Stella Shelton said Peterson had been suspended with pay after the arrest, though she noted that many teachers are not paid during the summer months.
Peterson was released on $50,000 bail and made his first appearance in court Monday morning.
“It’s mindblowing what all has happened and to think about how much his life is going to change in the coming weeks. His whole livelihood was teaching and coaching soccer,” McKinley said.