A retired teacher accused of molesting children at an Anaheim, California middle school has died of an apparent suicide at his home Wednesday as prosecutors were preparing closing arguments in his trial, officials said.
David Michael Bruce, 68, a former teacher at Sycamore Junior High School, was found dead Wednesday morning after a friend went to check on him at his home in an unincorporated area of Anaheim, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office told Oxygen.com
Bruce, who was free on bail, was found dead after he failed to show up for the 11th day of his trial, where he faced a possible life sentence if convicted, prosecutors said. Following his death, the case was dismissed, according to CBS Los Angeles.
Bruce was facing nine felony charges of performing a lewd act on a child under 14, and two counts of lewd acts with a child between 14 and 15 years of age, according to an indictment filed when cops arrested Bruce in 2015.
Carrie Braun, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s department, told Oxygen.com the death was being investigated as a suicide, but declined to go into specifics citing a pending autopsy and toxicology report.
Bruce had taught for decades at Sycamore Junior High School, and the alleged victims attended that school from 1996-1998, 1997-2000, 2002-2004, 2007-2009, and 2009-2011, prosecutors told Oxygen.com.
The former drama teacher was accused of grooming children by promising them “Hollywood connections,” and bringing them to tapings at studios in Los Angeles, the Orange County Register reports.
He would start by giving the students massages, often at the school or at his own home, and would escalate to molesting them, according to the Register.
In court, prosecutor Rick Zimmer accused Bruce of acting out on an “obsession with the male buttocks,” and that his alleged attacks on the children consisted of “a lot of rubbing, touching and spanking the buttocks of these victims,” according to the Register.
Bruce retired in 2010, but the investigation into Bruce began when a sister of one of the alleged victims, who was enrolling her own child at the school, commented to an administrator that she was glad that Bruce no longer taught there and repeated her brother’s allegations against him, the Register reports.
He was arrested in 2015, and released on $100,000 bail, CBS Los Angeles reports.
In addition to the sister mentioning the alleged abuse, prosecutors said a janitor at the school had at one point walked in on Bruce giving a student a massage, according to the Register.
When cops eventually raided Bruce’s home, they allegedly found a trove of erotic pictures of young boys, and one of the victims managed to record Bruce on a phone call admitting to the alleged abuse, according to the Orange County Register.
During the trial, Bruce’s attorney, Sal Ciulla, attacked the credibility of the alleged victims, accusing one young man of formulating a memory of the alleged abuse out of his own “fantasy,” according to CBS Los Angeles.
“He’s fantasized about these things for so long he doesn’t even remember where fantasy ends and reality begins,” the defense attorney said, according to the Orange County Register.
Ciulla also accused three of the alleged victims of looking for a payout, noting that there were pending lawsuits against Ciulla and the “deeper pockets” of the Anaheim school district, the Register reports.
Ciulla and a representative of Anaheim schools did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.
[Photo: Orange County District Attorney]