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Independence teacher cleared of allegations, likely victim of ‘identity spoofing’

By Zac Summers

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    KANSAS CITY, Missouri (KCTV) — A middle school teacher in the Independence School District has been cleared of allegations that he sent sexually explicit messages to a student on a social media site.

Tad Whitmire loves teaching 8th-grade English at Bigham Middle School, but his career and life were nearly ruined in November.

“It was frustrating, really hard to deal with,” Whitmire said during an exclusive interview with KCTV5 anchor Zac Summers. “It makes me hesitate to continue in this profession.”

A student reported receiving Snapchat messages from someone claiming to be a Bingham teacher. The name on the account was “Jackson Smith.” The two had a lengthy conversation before the person ultimately sent the minor a nude picture, from the chin down. Despite the sender never confirming he was Whitmire, the student assumed it was him because he had a similar beard to the person in the picture.

Rumors quickly spread at school.

“I’m getting comments, reactions from students, they’ve heard about it, some would make jokes, snicker, whisper and some I heard overtly commenting on it,” Whitmire recalled.

The Independence School District (ISD) chose not to place Whitmire on leave as it and the Independence Police Department (IPD) investigated. It’s a decision Superintendent Dr. Dale Herl stands behind.

“I have children of my own in this school district, and I would have felt 100 percent comfortable with this teacher teaching my child,” Herl said.

The district notified parents of the allegations but insisted there was “no proof substantiating the message came from an ISD employee.” Still, Herl said the student’s parent and others spread misinformation about Whitmire on Facebook.

“In the digital world we’re in, it’s so easy to believe the worst and some people just feed off of the negative,” Herl said.

Whitmire said strangers started harassing him online, commenting on his pictures, even posting foul messages on his church’s Facebook page. It got so bad, he shut down his account.

“People [were] accusing me of things, taking pictures from my Facebook, of me with my friends or students or kids I work with at church, and they were misconstruing things,” he recalled. “They were saying inappropriate things about me and my relationships with these people.”

Whitmire said it was hurtful and frustrating.

“People weren’t looking for the evidence,” he added. “They just heard the rumor and believed it to be true.”

In December, IPD concluded its investigation. The agency subpoenaed Snapchat records and found the original sender of the messages came from an IP address in Ohio – nearly 600 miles away. Whitmire was innocent.

“I’m not surprised at all because it happens all the time,” said Dr. Frank Xu, a professor at the University of Baltimore who specializes in digital forensics.

Xu believes Whitmire was a victim of identity spoofing — when someone creates a false identity or uses someone else’s identity, often for malicious purposes. In this case, the scammer used a disposable email that police were unable to trace. The case is now closed.

“There are a lot of websites that can provide you with one-hour temporary email, even 10-minute emails,” Xu explained. “It’s not that difficult to do and it can be very dangerous.”

Whitmire feels vindicated, but he still worries about his future and reputation. He said he simply wants to clear his name and get back to doing what he loves.

“I have a lot of great relationships with my students, and I want to continue growing those and building those and I kind of need parents’ support,” he said.

Whitmire and the school district are considering legal action against the parent and administrator of the Facebook page that perpetuated the lie, according to Herl.

The district shared the following cyber resources for parents and students:

Cyberwise offers resources for parents and educators to help children use digital media safely and responsibly. Their articles and guides cover a range of topics related to digital citizenship and online safety. ConnectSafely provides a wealth of resources on internet safety, social media, and technology. Their guides, tip sheets, and advice columns cover a range of topics relevant to parents navigating the digital landscape with their children. Family Online Safety Institute is an international nonprofit organization that focuses on creating a safer online environment for children and families. They offer resources, tools, and guides for parents to understand and manage their children’s online activities.

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