Camryn Zelinger is a former high school drama teacher who has pleaded guilty to charges related to accusations she was involved in an “inappropriate relationship” with a female student. The 34-year-old was a newlywed and taught at Encore High School of the Arts in Riverside, California, when she was arrested in 2017 after the then-14-year-old student’s mother discovered the “relationship,” according to the Riverside Police.
Zelinger pleaded guilty on April 5, 2019, to a felony charge and two misdemeanors. She admitted to contacting a minor with the intent to commit a sexual offense, a felony, and two misdemeanor counts of child molestation, according to the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office. Zelinger will be sentenced May 17, 2019, at 9 a.m. at the Hall of Justice in Riverside.
According to the district attorney’s office, her plea deal calls for 180 days in custody, including 120 to be served in jail on weekends and 60 days to be served on home detention. A judge will need to sign off on the plea agreement when she is sentenced in May. The plea agreement also includes sexual offender counseling through the probation office and Zelinger will be required to register as a sex offender, the district attorney’s office said.
The Corona resident was been fired by Encore High School after she was booked into the Riverside County Jail in February 2017 on felony charges, officials said. She has been free on bail since her arrest.
“The victim recently disclosed to officers there had been an inappropriate relationship over the past few months,” Riverside Police said in a 2017 statement. “The investigation revealed inappropriate physical contact and communications between the teacher and student.”
Here’s what you need to know about Camryn Zelinger:
1. The Victim’s Mother Says She Found ‘Explicit’ Texts From Zelinger on Her Daughter’s Phone
The investigation leading to the arrest of Camryn Zelinger began when the victim’s mother told authorities she found explicit text messages from the teacher on her daughter’s cell phone, KTLA-TV reports.
“I’m a nosy mother. And I grabbed her phone. And I looked at texts from this teacher, sexting my baby over the phone, over the texts – just all this stuff,” the mother, who is not being identified to protect the girl’s identity, told the news station.
The girl’s mother said she thought something was wrong, but her daughter wouldn’t tell her what was going on.
“She wouldn’t tell me, she was too afraid. She kept saying, ‘Nothing, mom, nothing, mom.’ But I knew something was wrong,” the mother told KTLA. The woman began crying as she told the news station, “When I finally found out something was going on, when she told me her teacher was molesting her – first period, eighth period, all throughout the day…”
Zelinger would have the girl removed from other classes so she could spend time with her, the news station reports.
“This teacher used her position of power and trust to sort of manipulate this child into doing things that this child thought she had to do,” the attorney for the victim’s family told KTLA.
He said they are “disturbed” to hear that some are saying the girl consented or played a role in the relationship, saying the victim “is legally incapable of forming consent.”
2. Zelinger & Her Husband Were Married in August 2016 & She Began Working at Encore High School in 2015
Zelinger and her husband were married in August 2016, according to her Facebook page.
“That moment when you look around and realize you are one lucky girl. That you are getting married to the most amazing man…. and he chooses you everyday,” she wrote after her husband proposed to her. “They say sometimes not to think about the future and to live in the present….but I can’t wait till you’re my husband.”
She has been teaching at the Encore High School of the Arts since September 2015.
Zelinger wrote on Facebook about her job change.
“Many of you have been asking, and I don’t normally exploit myself (too much) on this but I will make this Facebook official. Yes, unfortunately, I am not longer working at OCSA.. It was heartbreaking for me and it’s probably why I’ve been silent,” she wrote. “I did it because I was offered to be apart of a brand new Arts high school as their only instructor for their theater conservatory.
“I get to work full time building a wonderful program that will hopefully carry on through many many years. It’s called Encore High school for the Arts and it’s incredible. I’m so blessed with this opportunity, though I will miss OCSA so much, it’s an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Zelinger said on Facebook.
Zelinger recently posted a text message from a parent saying, “You are such a godsend! I really appreciate everything you do!!”
She wrote alongside the photo, “Some would say that I avoid “parents” like one would avoid the Black Plague. I wouldn’t disagree- however- I 100% realize wouldn’t have the incredible luxury to call my job .. “a Job” if it wasn’t for them– and it’s a simple text like this, sent from a students parent, sent at the most perfect time- when I’m reminded how much I appreciate them. I give on this giving Tuesday all my thanks to the parents of the most wonderful students a girl could ask for. #dinkledoriumfun #ilovemyjob #givingtuesday”
3. She Previously Worked at the Orange County School of the Arts
Zelinger previously worked at the Orange County School of the Arts from September 2013 until September 2015, according to her Linkedin profile.
She also worked as a telemarketer for Orange County Singles and at the Hotel St. Regis in New York City.
Parents who know Zelinger were shocked by the charges.
“The way she is and the way she interacts with the children, you would never suspect…you would never think she would do something like that,” Tiffany Florez told KTLA-TV.
On her social media pages, Zelinger often posted photos and videos with her students, praising them for their hard work. She posted a letter from one of her students who was thanking her for helping him adjust to a new school and embrace his love of acting.
“6 days into May have been ridiculously difficult. Emotionally and physically… Going into class this morning was hard– emotionally and physically,” she wrote on Facebook. “And then you get a letter and it wakes you the hell up because it reminds you that you’re such a lucky son of a bitch with the greatest job in the world. I mean– I helped an 8th grader be more brave. Nothing beats that.”
4. She Graduated from the American Musical & Dramatic Academy in New York & Has Worked as an Actor in California
Zelinger graduated from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City with a musical theatre degree, according to her Linkedin profile.
She has worked as an actress in Orange County, California, along with being a teacher. Zelinger says she has been an actor at The Chance Theater in Anaheim since 2010. Her husband is also an actor there.
Zelinger also says she is the founder and director of the Lola Mae Performing Arts Center in South Orange County. The theater in Mission Viejo was started in July 2012, according to its website.
“Zelinger shows that Sheila’s tough exterior is no act – it’s used to gird her resolve and battle the self-admitted realities of aging,” the Register said.
5. She Was Initially Charegd With Lewd or Lascivious Acts With a Minor & Annoying or Molesting a Child Under 18 & Pleaded Not GUilty
The lewd or lascivious acts charge is a felony, that carries a maximum of eight years in prison. The other charge is a misdemeanor.
She was arrested February 6 at the high school where she worked and later booked into the Robert Presley Detention Center. She was released from custody on February 7 after posting $50,000 bail.
Zelinger appeared in court on April 11 for her arraignment at the Riverside Hall of Justice. She pleaded not guilty to all counts. She made several court appearances over the next two years before pleading guilty in April 2019.
The case was investigated by the Riverside Police Department’s Child Abuse Unit.
The attorney for the victim’s family told KTLA they are speaking out to “protect other children.”
The victim’s mother told the news station, “I would like parents to know, pay attention to your children when they say something is going on or with their emotions, with their actions. If they come and tell you, ‘My teacher touched me this way or this way,’ don’t brush it off, listen to them.”
“Encore High School for the Arts has fully cooperated with the investigation and have stated the teacher is no longer employed with them,” police said. “If anyone has information regarding this investigation, please contact Detective J. Adcox at (951) 353-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Detective E. Bercian at (951) 353-7950 or email@example.com.”