tampabay.com

Despair amid allegations, inquiry

By THOMAS LAKE and JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published February 22, 2007


TRINITY - Seven Springs Middle School throbbed with rumors last Friday as the principal sent parents a list of vague reassurances.

Appropriate steps had been taken, he said in the letter. The sheriff was investigating a complaint of "inappropriate electronic communications" between an employee and a student. The employee had been placed on leave. No more information could be provided.

On the same day a few miles east, a science teacher named Stephan Brown left home in a green Ford Explorer. He sent text messages to his wife from the road, telling her not to look for him.

The last message said he wanted to be with his dog, referred to in a sheriff's incident report as "his big buddy."

The dog had been dead for some time.

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Brown was 47, with a master's degree from the University of South Florida, and he had taught in Pasco County since 1993. He lived in Land O'Lakes with his wife, Beth Brown, the principal of John Long Middle School in Wesley Chapel. He was known for excellence.

"Mr. Brown is a force in the science lab," his principal, Chris Christoff, wrote in an evaluation two years ago. "He has the ability to inspire even the most withdrawn students to love the scientific process."

It is not clear exactly what the allegations were, or who made them, but sheriff's investigators called the school last week. They wanted a look at Brown's computer.

Brown was placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation, district spokeswoman Tammy Rabon said. The Sheriff's Office would not release the case documents. Spokesman Kevin Doll said they involved an allegation of child abuse, but it was not substantiated and the investigation was closed.

Doll said deputies have since begun another criminal investigation of Brown, separate from the first. He would not say what it was about, but he did say he had not seen any evidence to suggest children had been in danger.

Brown's wife called the Sheriff's Office on Sunday to report him missing. She said he was despondent over losing the job he loved.

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A deputy found the green Explorer on Monday in the parking lot of the YMCA in Trinity, barely a mile from Seven Springs Middle School. An activities counselor and her students found Brown on the ropes course.

He wore a blue Old Navy sweatshirt and white New Balance sneakers. Around his neck was a yellow-green nylon rope.

Brown wrote on his job application that his greatest pleasure in teaching came from knowing he had a positive influence on a child's life.

About six children saw his body hanging.

Thomas Lake can be reached at tlake@sptimes.com or 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6245.