DENVER (AP) — It could take a month to sort the offenders from the victims in a widespread sexting case at a Colorado high school, and then authorities plan to file charges only if "absolutely necessary," a prosecutor said.
An unspecified number of Canon City High School students have been suspended over the exchange of hundreds of explicit photos of students as young as eighth-graders.
An investigation began Monday after some people contacted school officials and a tip came through a state student safety hotline.
Three phones have been confiscated, and authorities are seeking search warrants to examine them. It's unclear how many students posed for nude pictures and the investigation is expected to take about 30 days, Canon City Police Capt. Jim Cox said Friday.
"We're not out to hang every kid. We don't want the victims to think they did something wrong, but we do want to know what happened," Cox said.
Fremont County District Attorney Tom LeDoux said some students could face charges that cause them to register as sex offenders, because students under the age of 18 cannot consent to taking or exchanging nude photographs under Colorado law.
"But I take the implication of that very seriously and would urge that only if I felt it was absolutely necessary. It is possible there will be no criminal charges filed at all," LeDoux said.
The possession of explicit photos of minors is a felony in Colorado, which, like many states, has not updated laws intended to fight adult exploitation of children for the smartphone age.
School Superintendent George Welsh wouldn't discuss the suspensions or say how long they would last to protect the students' privacy.
Enough football players were involved that the school forfeited its final game of the season this weekend because officials did not think the team should represent the community. The district has said girls and boys are involved in the sexting.
Police distributed a bulletin to parents telling them about apps that can be used to hide photos on phones and urging them to talk to their children about the risk of explicit photos being shared through social media.
The school is offering a counseling hotline to students worried about getting in trouble for sexting. Welsh emphasized that, while some may face serious consequences for what they have done, prosecutors will use common sense in deciding whether anyone should face criminal charges.