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EL CAJON, Calif. – The leader of an El Cajon-based theater arts program acknowledged Friday as many as five allegations of sexual misconduct made against three of its directors dating back some 25 years, promising transparency amid an internal probe into the claims.

Christian Youth Theater President Janie Russell Cox on Friday, July 24, 2020. (Pool)

In a news conference, Christian Youth Theater President Janie Russell Cox said program leaders are “heartbroken and devastated” over the claims, which began circulating on social media in recent weeks.

Cox said the theater is cooperating with local police agencies and urged other victims and witnesses to incidents of abuse to contact the San Diego District Attorney’s Office.

“We are doing everything we can to be sensitive and fully understanding the gravity of this situation,” she said. “We will do whatever it takes to find healing, restoration and resolution with every individual affected as we move forward.”

Cox, who took over as CYT president in 2017, said she was unaware of any claims of abuse or past concerns of it until recent allegations were made online. She was pressed by reporters about the hiring of an ex-Chula Vista High School music teacher — the subject of past investigative reporting into his conduct by the Voice of San Diego — whose photo was said to have appeared on the CYT website as an online instructor as recently as this spring.

“The class didn’t go through,” Cox said. “He was never in front of children.”

The theater plans to discontinue its programming for the fall season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Cox said, noting it will “remain dark” while officials turn their attention to investigations.

“We solely want to focus on these ongoing investigations,” she said, “and make the necessary improvements required to bring restoration, healing and create a strong culture where kids and parents can feel safe to build their talents, to be confident, kind, God-loving humans.”

About two dozen people demonstrated outside of the news conference Friday with music and signs.

San Diego-based attorney Jessica Pride said she represents four former CYT students who are accusing the organization of child sexual abuse. The clients she’s representing were between 12 and 16 years old at the time of the alleged incidents dating back to about 2012, she said.

“What I can tell you is that the evidence I have seen, they knew,” Pride said. “My clients, they want change and they want justice. They want to make sure that no other child is ever hurt here at CYT.”

Former student Courtney Conway said she was unaware of any sexual abuse during her time with the theater group, but describes the atmosphere there as “sexually-biased” and “homophobic.”

“I don’t want this to come off as us rallying behind to burn this place down to the ground because that is not what we’re about,” Conway said. “We are about changing them and trying to get them to take accountability for the pain and the trauma they have caused in their communities and fix it.”