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It was a photograph, but to Danielle Sarna, it may as well have been a mirror.
As Sarna stared at the image of the blonde-haired, seventh-grade girl, which she said was shown to her by her former boyfriend who was also her former Lockport Township High School teacher, Paul Loveall, she realized that the last seven years of her life were not what she thought they were.
Loveall reportedly told Sarna the girl in the photo was his current student, and her name was also Danielle.
“And she resembled me,” Sarna told The Legend. “He showed me this picture, and I think that was the first time I ever felt, like, a real red flag.
“Why does he have this girl’s picture? How did he get it? It just isn’t right.”
Sarna publicly began dating Loveall, her former health teacher, in 2001, as a 19-year-old college student, but as alleged in a 2013 police report and a June 2017 lawsuit, the relationship started more than four years earlier, when she was a 15-year-old sophomore at Lockport Township High School.
The Legend's multiple attempts to reach Loveall were unsuccessful. Loveall admitted to police that he had a sexual relationship with Sarna but denied that it started when she was a minor.
The Lockport Police Department investigated the allegations for nearly two years, from June 2013 to May 2015. After hearing the evidence from the LPD, however, the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office saw a lack of physical evidence and declined to file abuse charges against Loveall.
Two years after that decision, in June 2017, Sarna and her brother Jason — who was allegedly punished by LTHS for blowing the whistle on the alleged affair as a senior in 2002 — filed a civil lawsuit against Loveall, 16 other current and former LTHS educators, LTHS District 205 and the district’s teachers union.
LTHS D205 attorney Todd Hayden did not return calls from The Legend, while multiple educators named in the lawsuit declined to speak on the record.
The lawsuit, which seeks at least $50,000 in damages for each of eight counts of abuse or negligence, was dismissed Jan. 29 by Will County Judge Raymond Rossi, who cited the statute of limitations law in place when the alleged abuse occurred.
The Sarnas’ attorney, Ellyn Bullock, appealed Rossi’s decision Feb. 28, arguing for a full exploration of various amendments to Illinois’ statute of limitations law that were written since the alleged abuse occurred.
Bullock said the law passed in 2014, which allows victims to disclose up to 20 years after the age of 18, should be applied.
As of Monday, April 2, the case was still in front of appellate judges.
LTHS D205 issued the following statement:
“We were saddened to learn of the accusations against a former teacher who worked at Lockport THSD 205 from 1995-2002 and has since relocated out of Illinois. LTHS has, and will continue to cooperate fully with any police or agency investigation and takes all accusations seriously.
“As there is pending litigation, we are unable to provide any additional comment at this time.”
For Danielle, the appeal feels like her final shot.
Years of therapy and personal growth have helped Danielle move on in her professional and private lives, but one thing she cannot shake is what she says is a lack of responsibility accepted by Lockport Township High School, then and now, for what she says was an illegal relationship that has multiple on-the-record corroborators.
“There have been so many cover-ups and negligent supervision of [Loveall] when I was at Lockport,” Danielle said “They will just not accept responsibility, and they covered all of this up. They just passed him along to a school in California.”
** Editor’s Note: The Legend conducted more than 20 interviews and collected hundreds of pages of records and documents in relation to the sexual abuse alleged by Danielle Sarna.**
While at LTHS
A standout student-athlete out of Homer Glen, Danielle entered LTHS in fall 1996.
She attended school dances, recorded above-average grades, and played basketball in the winter and soccer in the spring for the Porters.
“She was the best daughter you could ever have,” Danielle’s mother, Margie, told The Legend. “Model student, always into sports, very athletic. Just a well-rounded person. That’s why when all this came down, I felt like I was in a bad dream, a nightmare. When am I going to wake up?”
Danielle’s sophomore year she was in the health class of third-year LTHS teacher Paul Loveall, a 31-year-old married father who was also an LTHS softball and boys basketball coach.
According to Danielle, and detailed in the lawsuit, Loveall began “grooming” her immediately by giving her preferential treatment: handing her hall passes, allowing her to choose her own seat and excusing her from a class-wide writing punishment, among other things.
Soon thereafter, Loveall asked Danielle, then 15, to baby-sit his two young children, which she did on at least two occasions, confirmed by multiple parties, including Loveall to police.
The second time Danielle baby-sat for the Lovealls, she went with Paul and his children to Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg. Afterward, he paid her and gave her a kiss on the cheek, Danielle said.
When Danielle returned to school after winter break that school year, 1997-1998, she said she received a handwritten letter from Loveall, who expressed romantic feelings for Danielle and detailed an unhappy marriage.
Danielle said she destroyed that letter, along with other letters and communication from Loveall, in an effort to keep the alleged illicit relationship secret when she moved away from home.
That letter is what “initiated” the relationship between the two, according to Danielle, who said that two weeks later she returned a letter stating she held similar feelings for Loveall.
The two would attend each other’s basketball games — Danielle as a sophomore player and Loveall as an assistant boys coach.
After one boys game, Loveall allegedly drove Danielle, still 15, home. On the way, he stopped the car on a secluded road before exposing himself and
initiating sexual contact, according to Danielle’s statement to the Lockport Police Department.
Around that same time, Danielle claimed for the record, she and Loveall had intercourse at his home in Plainfield.
Through the rest of Danielle’s high school years, for all of which she was a minor, she and Loveall allegedly maintained a secret relationship known only to Danielle, Loveall and two of Danielle’s friends.
Danielle said during her junior and senior years, she and Loveall shared letters and physical contact every day on LTHS grounds.
One day her junior year, when Danielle was 16, Loveall allegedly brought her to the girls locker room on Lockport’s East Campus. There, they had intercourse, according to the lawsuit.
In addition to Danielle’s victim statement, the most incriminating disclosure came from Danielle’s close friend, who, along with her boyfriend, reportedly knew of the relationship and was often in the room while Danielle and Loveall were being intimate at LTHS.
Not only did the close friend — who wished to remain anonymous and whom we will call Ann — make a statement to Lockport police, but she also flew to the West Coast to testify in front of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which in 2018 revoked Loveall’s teaching certificate.
“I was shocked at first,” Ann said in front of the commission. “I questioned [Danielle] about what was happening. I was very concerned about her relationship with a married man who was 32 years old.”
Ann often ate lunch with Danielle and Loveall in Loveall’s classroom and testified she witnessed them touch inappropriately and “make out.”
Cindy Tomczyk, another friend of Danielle who spoke with LPD, thought it was odd that Danielle and Loveall spent so much time together in high school, but like Ann, she kept quiet for worry of “rocking the boat.”
Two more of Danielle’s peers spoke with police: Ann’s boyfriend, who told police he knew of the illegal relationship from Ann, and another female friend of Danielle’s, whose name is redacted from the report.
The other friend called police after the case had been closed and detailed an event in 1998 in which Loveall allegedly drove Danielle, then 16, to a social gathering. When asked by witnesses why he was there, Loveall reportedly said he was “dropping off his girl.”
The witness said she believes Loveall “bought the [other witnesses’] silence that were there that night by giving them all A’s in gym.”
Post high school
After graduating from LTHS in the spring of 2000, Danielle moved on to nearby North Central College in Naperville, where she could continue playing soccer; though, she said, that was not her primary motivation.
Loveall, whose divorce was finalized in July 2000, according to Will County records, moved into an apartment in Lisle, a suburb close to North Central.
Danielle said her relationship with Loveall continued through her two years at North Central, and she began to live with Loveall in his apartment.
The following summer of 2001, Danielle and Loveall decided to go public with their relationship, each of them writing letters to the other’s parents.
Upon Danielle’s request, Margie and Lee Sarna met Danielle and Loveall in a forest preserve in Homer Glen, where they received the letter and confronted Loveall.
“We read the letter and were like, ‘Oh my god,’” Margie said. “And we saw him sitting there, and it was like, ‘I can’t believe this is happening. This is her teacher.’”
“It’s unreal this guy could do anything like this,” Lee added. “Isn’t he afraid to hand that to somebody with his signature and everything on it?”
In the letter, a copy of which was given to The Legend by the Sarnas, Loveall describes a love for Danielle that began after she graduated LTHS. It details a friendly date the two had in the late summer or early fall of 2000, just weeks after Danielle turned 18 on June 24.
Loveall also wrote: “We have known each other for almost four years. We know each other very well.”
At this time, Loveall was still an educator at LTHS, and the school was made aware of the relationship in the fall of 2001, according to district documents.
Bullock, the Sarnas’ lawyer, argues that the school district and anyone else believing the relationship began immediately after Danielle became a legal consenter is “ridiculous.”
In August 2001, Margie and Lee reported the relationship and suspicions of illegal sexual contact to the Will County Sheriff’s Office, which, according to county records, would not pursue an investigation without Danielle’s cooperation.
That school year, 2001-2002, Jason Sarna was a senior at LTHS.
As a rift grew between Danielle and her parents in 2001, Jason decided to confront Loveall and ask why his sister was not calling the family.
According to records from LTHS and detailed by Jason, the conversation escalated into a shouting match, with Jason cursing at Loveall. That led to the first of multiple times Jason was disciplined after speaking out about the relationship.
The conflicts between Jason and Loveall continued, and Loveall was consistently directed by LTHS administrators to cease discussion about and to the Sarna family on school grounds, according to LTHS documents.
Citing a Freedom of Information exception, LTHS refused to provide The Legend with copies of any disciplinary communication involving Loveall; however, according to two documents obtained by The Legend through Bullock, Loveall met with his superiors at least four times that school year in regard to the Sarna family.
According to the documents, administrators told Loveall on Oct. 17, 2001 to “avoid contact with or say anything to or about” Jason.
The meeting was followed up by a memo reinforcing the directive.
Those instructions were disobeyed by Loveall, prompting then-superintendent Chris J. Ward to send a memo on Jan. 28, 2002, telling Loveall, “You are directed not to talk about your personal life as it pertains to any member of the Sarna family.”
Despite the disciplinary measures in relation to his romantic relationship with a recent student, according to district records, Loveall was allowed to coach girls golf in the fall and softball in the spring.
Less than two months later, another memo was sent to Loveall, this one from Diane Maier, director of personnel for LTHS, reviewing a “written directive” issued to him on March 20, 2002, that banned Loveall from meeting with students alone without prior approval.
The memo stated, in part, “Let me reinforce the directive as written and discussed. You are not to remove any student from a class or study hall for the purpose of meeting with you for any reason without prior approval from a building administrator.”
In the summer of 2002, Loveall resigned from LTHS for a job at Alvord Unified School District in Riverside, California. He moved with Danielle to Southern California.
After the LTHS Board of Education accepted Loveall’s letter of resignation, Maier sent a letter to Loveall thanking him for his service to the district and wishing him the best.
Maier also answered reference questions for Loveall’s new district. There is no mention of Loveall’s relationship with his former student in any of the communication between Maier and Robin Lappert, of the Alvord Unified School District, according to documents released to The Legend.
A request made by The Legend under the California Public Records Act to Alvord Unified School District for documents regarding any possible disciplinary action against Loveall and communication with LTHS was still pending as of press time.
Danielle and Loveall lived together in California for about a year before the relationship began to deteriorate, said Danielle, who initiated a break-up around 2004. The last time Danielle saw Loveall was in 2005.
In one of the last meetings between the two, Loveall showed Danielle a photo of a current student of his, she said, and she said she recognized for the first time the nefarious foundation of their relationship.
It took eight more years, however, for Danielle to disclose the alleged abuse.
“I was not even in therapy at that point,” she said. “I actually needed a therapist to explain to me that the whole thing was abuse. I couldn’t accept it.”
While a social work intern in 2013, Danielle said she received a lewd voicemail from a patient. The incident led to a breakdown, after which her superiors suggested she confront her past.
Two days before she turned 31, the age of Loveall when he first allegedly abused her, she called the Lockport Police Department to file a complaint against Loveall.
She alleged to the LPD that the illegal relationship started when she was 15 and provided evidence, such as photos of her and Loveall; yearbook notes from Loveall, who called her “Sweet Pea” in the messages; and potential witnesses that included her close friend, Ann.
The investigation, which spanned nearly two years, involved interviews with Danielle, Jason, Ann, Ann’s boyfriend from high school, LTHS’s Superintendent Todd Wernet and Loveall’s ex-wife.
The Lockport Police Department also sought help from the Corona Police Department, who interviewed Loveall at Ysmael Villegas Middle School, where he was employed at the time.
According to interview audio, when Corona Detective Gail Gottfried contacted Loveall by phone, Loveall denied knowing Danielle and hung up on the officer.
Gottfried, with her partner, Chris Espinoza, went that day to Loveall’s place of work and interviewed him in a private office. There, Loveall eventually admitted to having a sexual relationship with Danielle, but he denied that it began when she was a minor.
Loveall confirmed that he and Danielle dated and lived together for “a couple years” after she graduated high school; however, while he told police he dated Danielle starting “a year-and-a-half” after graduation, his letter to Danielle’s parents describes dates when Danielle was a freshman in college.
While Loveall denied being involved with Danielle when she was in high school, Espinoza pressed him on the matter, saying, “The reality of it is, something occurred between you two before she was 18. I wouldn’t be here talking to you if it was after she was 18.”
Loveall said, “No. I’m done,” and stopped cooperating with the line of questioning.
Weeks later, the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office announced on May 5, 2015, it would not pursue charges in the case.
“The case was brought to us well over a decade after the allegations of abuse would have occurred,” Chuck Pelkie, spokesman for Will County State’s Attorney’s Office, told The Legend. “Our office reviewed the matter and determined it could not meet our burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Danielle and Jason were not pleased with the outcome of the investigation, saying the Lockport Police Department did a “horrible” job, criticizing the two-year span of the investigation and that the police never interviewed Danielle’s parents, Loveall’s children, various LTHS personnel and a number of other potential witnesses.
According to released police records, the Lockport Police Department did six interviews over two years, and there was no recorded activity on the investigation in all of 2014.
Lockport Police Department Deputy Chief Ron Huff said the reason the investigation took so long was that many of the people involved were out of state, and that he is “comfortable that my investigators did the best they could with the information they were presented.”
Danielle said one of her key motivations to coming forward was to stop Loveall from fraternizing with students, setting her sights on his teaching credentials.
She first told her story to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing in February of 2017.
A hearing on the matter was set for Oct. 23, but on Oct. 20, Loveall submitted a letter to the commission stating he wanted to surrender his license and “under the circumstances, I do not believe that the Administrative Hearing scheduled for October 23, 2017 can or should proceed.”
But, pursuant to Education Code Section 4440, Loveall’s surrendering of his credential did not prevent the commission from proceeding with a “prove-up” hearing, which included testimony from Danielle, Ann and Detective Gottfried and analysis by Dr. Laura Brodie, a licensed psychologist with 21 years of experience evaluating and treating sex offenders.
Brodie reviewed the case, heard Danielle and her friend’s testimonies, and came to a firm conclusion:
“There is no question that [Danielle’s] strongly corroborated testimony was truthful and that [Loveall] engaged in the conduct described by [Danielle]. [Loveall’s] conduct involved moral turpitude and was unprofessional, unethical, and unlawful … [Loveall] caused great harm to [Danielle], her family, and her friends by sexually abusing [Danielle] under the color of authority as a teacher; in sum, [Loveall] is a child predator and is not fit to teach.”
The commission revoked all teaching credentials, certificates and authorizations issued to Loveall, effective on March 18.
Additionally, in closing remarks, presiding Judge Roy W. Hewitt confessed his disbelief that a criminal investigation did not come to fruition.
“I find it shocking that the [local authorities] didn’t pursue him criminally. … I’m absolutely shocked by it,” he said. “I’m sorry on behalf of them. That’s just pathetic.”
It has been more than 12 years since Loveall reportedly showed Danielle that photo of a middle-school student. From that “red flag” to present day has been a spectrum filled with hurt, confusion and anger for Danielle.
As she’s conquered everything from self-harm and therapy to rejection and scrutiny, she questions every day if speaking up was the best decision.
But she knows Paul Loveall can no longer teach young people. And she’s hopeful that through the appeal she can effect change in policy and behavior and through the media she can empower others to stand up.
She’s also hopeful that’s enough.
“I’m the one that has to live with it every day, and it’s just sad,” Danielle said, adding, “I’m hopeful this article will create awareness about abuse and perhaps inspire anyone who may have been through it that it’s OK to speak out.”