INDIANAPOLIS -- A former New Castle school counselor and convicted child predator says he "groomed" underage students for years – even as colleagues let their suspicions go unreported.
Darrell Hughes, now 58, is serving a 22-year sentence at the federal correctional institute in Safford, Arizona.
He was sentenced in February 2016 for three counts of sexual exploitation of a child after pleading guilty to bringing students from the alternative school where he worked to his home – where he would photograph them with hidden cameras in the bathroom and shower.
Federal prosecutors alleged Hughes' pattern of grooming and then sexually exploiting teenage boys went on for at least five years at the alternative school in New Castle where he worked.
In a training video released this week as a joint effort by the Indiana Department of Education, the U.S. Attorney's Office and Indiana State Police, Hughes offers teachers tips on how to catch predators looking to prey on their students – just like he did.
The video is intended to encourage Indiana teachers to follow their instincts if they think someone is trying to take advantage of their students.
Hughes says he thinks many of his colleagues were suspicious of him – but none ever reported him.
"I know that I passed people all the time that had some type of doubt and it wasn't just my paranoia. I could sense it. I could feel something was going on," he said. "And so my answer to that was to become even better at what I did so they wouldn't possibly want to think that it could be true."
Chuck Cohen, commander of Indiana State Police's Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce, says in the video that the problem is people expect sexual predators to look like sexual predators.
"One of the challenges we encounter is that many people think: I would recognize a sexual predator. I would recognize a child molester," Cohen says.
But, Cohen says, predators don't usually just walk into a school and grab a child. They are slower and more systematic.
"One of the things we see when someone is grooming, or sexually trying to seduce a child, is they generally do that through a combination of attention, affection and gifts," he said. "They are going to prey on a child who, either in reality or in their own perception, are not receiving that attention, affection and gifts at home. Essentially what they're doing is they're trying to slowly and systematically build the trust with that child and erode the boundaries the child has built up of what is appropriate vs. inappropriate behavior."
Hughes says that's exactly what he did.
"There were definitely things that I was doing to make [students] feel more comfortable – things I was purchasing, things I was offering to them," Hughes said. "Most of the kids that unfortunately were victims were of the socio-economic lower class, so they weren't having even some of their basic needs met financially. And so even if it was something like clothing items or cigarettes, it was a way of appearing to be cool with them and having the bond with them, maybe a relationship that wasn't like anybody else. Unfortunately, that would lead to them having a higher level of trust with me."
RTV6 spoke with a self-described prolific sex offender named Jack Reynolds in 2015. Reynolds claims he molested more than 300 children before he was finally put behind bars -- including some while working as a referee for the IHSAA. Read our full, candid interview with Reynolds here.
The video also encourages school employees to report allegations directly to police, and not to try to conduct their own investigations – which could damage evidence or tip off the alleged child predator.
Hughes says the most important thing is to follow your gut if you feel something is wrong.
"That would probably be one of my main pieces of advice, looking back on it. If there's red flags, there's red flags," he said. "Don't think they're pink or a slight shade of whitish, reddish pink. If there's something that needs to be asked, it needs to be asked."