As a parent, you want to send your child to school knowing they’re safe. Most kids will tell you they can handle themselves, but at the end of the day, it’s nice that we can fall back on our educators to keep an eye on them. It may seem naive to put this much faith into the hands of complete strangers, but, come on — how much harm could a teacher really do?
For the parents of students at one Alabama school, their complete trust in the educators there was rewarded with a sickening case of deceit and abuse. At the center of it, one teacher took her “hands-on” educating style to the extreme — and she’ll spend the rest of her life paying for it.
An Alabama girl born and bred, Stephanie Pruett wanted to make a difference in the world. But it wasn’t until college came around that she realized how she was going to do it: by teaching.
In 2012, Pruett earned her degree in history from Jacksonville State University and followed up with a master’s in secondary history education a few years later. All the while, she worked with the Department of Academic Enhancement mentoring at-risk students and student athletes.
Jacksonville State University
“Each and every student that walks into my classroom is a unique individual,” Pruett wrote in 2015. “My goal as an educator is to provide students with the opportunity to engage and learn inside and outside of the classroom.”
Pruett’s impressive background and approach to teaching soon caught the eye of Weaver High School in Calhoun County, who offered her a faculty position in 2017. Yet the administration wasn’t expecting her to only teach history.
The Anniston Star
The 28-year-old was also assigned to a Bible literature class, teaching the book from a secular point-of-view. Some teachers would’ve found this task intimidating; Pruett, however, was excited for the challenge.
Her husband, Justin, was also fully behind her when it came to this new opportunity. The two had been high-school sweethearts before marrying in 2012, and together they had a four-year-old son.
But shortly after Pruett’s tenure at Weaver High began, disturbing rumors about the new teacher started to spread. Eventually, two concerned students decided to take action.
At the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office, the students revealed that something wasn’t right between Pruett and one of her students. The police took this claim to heart, immediately reaching out to the school for answers.
But when faculty at Weaver High were presented with the accusations, they simply couldn’t believe them. Pruett had been a model teacher ever since she arrived at the school — could she really be guilty of the things these students were saying?
Local police decided to open an investigation into the matter, and after interviewing the accused they finally cracked. It turned out the rumors were true — Pruett and her student were engaged in a sexual relationship.
But this wasn’t just a one-time offense: the relationship had been going on for a solid five months, beginning way back in October 2017. Pruett had barely unpacked her bags before setting her sights on the unsuspecting student.
While the age of consent in Alabama is 16, state law prohibits teachers from having sexual relationships with their students. “It doesn’t matter if this was consensual,” said Calhoun County Sheriff Matthew Wade. “Under the law it’s illegal.”
With the relationship outed, Pruett was promptly placed on paid leave. The school board was shocked by the teacher’s actions and was quick to condemn her inappropriate behavior.
“Wrong is wrong. She broke a trust,” Weaver High principal Michael Allison wrote in his statement. “As a principal, I can’t say how disappointed I am that she crossed that line that no teacher should cross.”
stephanie pruett / Twitter
The parents of Weaver High students were equally perturbed by the news. In such a close-knit community, a scandal of this size and severity was sure to leave a lasting impact.
Lamar / Flickr
“It turns my stomach. With it being a female teacher there’s no difference,” one parent told WBMA-TV. “She’s still a predator in the same stance, she’s still a grown woman. She knew right from wrong.”
“I was shocked and also sad, that it happened around here,” another parent shared. “You know, you hear of everything. I never thought it would happen here.”
Pruett was subsequently arrested and charged with engaging in a sexual act with a student, a felony in Alabama. If found guilty, Pruett faces up to 20 years in prison and could be required to register as a sex offender.
“It’s sad that a woman who has a family and went to college to become an educator is giving that all up,” Sheriff Wade said. “I just don’t understand why she went down that path. It’s very disturbing and troubling.”
But you really never know what kind of people our schools may be hiring. Even in a place as seemingly air-tight as the U.S. Air Force Academy, one faculty member managed to hide in plain sight for years before students realized what kind of man he really was.
Each year, just over one thousand cadets enter the Air Force Academy with dreams of becoming true American heroes. One particular figure had supported these young men and women for years, though most of them never noticed him.
By the mid-1970s, Bill Crawford had worked as a janitor for close to a decade. Of course, his work at the Academy wasn’t exactly glamorous. He spent most of each day mopping floors and replacing dead light bulbs. But he did have a lot to teach those kids.
Outside the Beltway
Unfortunately, Bill rarely had the chance to converse with students. Juggling drills, classes, and mandatory meals, cadets found themselves with precious little free time. And most of them didn’t want to spend it befriending the janitor.
Air Force Times
But unlike most of his classmates, James Moschgat took notice of the older janitor. Though the quiet man “blended into the woodwork,” there was something about Bill that piqued James’ interest. He just couldn’t put his finger on what it was.
Still, James had bigger fish to fry — a huge amount of history homework, to be specific. He and the other cadets were yawning their way through a detailed history of World War II. But one page soon had James’ pulse racing.
USAF Police Alumni Association
It described a bold private serving in the U.S. Army’s 36th Infantry Division during the invasion of Italy. In 1943, a burst of enemy machine-gun fire sent his entire platoon scrambling for cover. But he rushed forward with a bundle of grenades.
Without any assistance, the private charged up the hill and cleared out multiple Italian machine gun nests. His bravery allowed Allied forces to advance up through Europe, and Fascist Italy fell just two weeks later.
His moment of glory came at one of the most crucial junctures of World War II. America should’ve celebrated the private as a hero, however, he never got any kind of parade back home.
Immediately following the battle, that courageous young man was reported dead. Franklin Delano Roosevelt sent a posthumous Medal of Honor to the soldier’s father. Little did the President know he was missing one key detail.
It turned out the American champion was still alive! Axis forces captured him after his heroic charge and placed him in a German prisoner-of-war camp. Once the conflict ended, he simply returned home without any fanfare.
That story was thrilling enough by its own merit, but what really sent James’ head spinning was the name of the private. The book listed him as William J. Crawford. It couldn’t be the same man who cleaned the Academy bathrooms, could it?
A couple of days later, James worked up the courage to ask Bill about the story. After scanning over the book’s account, Bill nonchalantly said, “Yep. That’s me.” The young cadet’s jaw dropped to the floor.
Re-gathering his wits, James asked Bill how he ended up as a custodian. The older man said that once he left the army, he still had the desire to serve somewhere in his native Colorado. Not long after, he offered his services to the Air Force Academy.
Word of Bill’s exploits spread like wildfire around campus. In a matter of days, the mild-mannered janitor became an Academy legend, with amazed cadets going to him for advice and war stories. Still, James felt the war hero was underappreciated.
Twitter / Grant Young
For one thing, Bill never officially received his Medal of Honor. That bothered James even after he graduated in 1977. So when, a few years later, the recent alumnus heard a big guest was visiting the Academy, he spotted a chance to make things right.
Ahead of President Ronald Reagan’s address to the student body in 1984, cadets past and present pestered the Academy to recognize Bill Crawford in the event. They thought their pleas fell on deaf ears…until that fateful day came. Reagan called Bill onstage.
Pens & Patron
The President personally awarded Private Crawford the Medal of Honor and spoke about how he was the perfect model of leadership. At last, everyone knew Bill was a hero. His hometown of Pueblo even erected a statue in his honor.
The Pueblo Chieftain
Bill lived out the rest of his years in relative peace and quiet — just the way he liked it. When he passed away in 2000, he was buried in the Air Force Academy Cemetery. No other enlisted Army serviceman was ever laid to rest there before.
The Patriot Post
Although Bill left this world years ago, the tenets he stood for live on. Colonel James Moschgat — now retired — still speaks about the lessons he learned from the humble janitor.
The Durango Herald
James said that Bill’s life is proof that the real heroes aren’t always who you would expect. All service is worthy of respect. On top of that, there are countless ways for brave men and women to serve their communities.
Nobody knows this fact better than Bill’s brother-in-arms, Bob Williams. His neighbors admire him for his experience as a war hero and educator, but that isn’t all he has done.
The Quad-City Times
A resident of Long Grove, Iowa, the WWII veteran is known by most for his time as a high school teacher and football coach in nearby Davenport. Still, Bob has become a legend in his small town of 800 for an entirely different reason.
Every Saturday, the 94-year-old rises bright and early with one very special purpose in mind. Pulling on his signature yellow slicker, Bob begins down the street and heads over to his local Dollar General.
HERSHEYS / YouTube
Bob is a familiar sight as he enters the small discount store, and he greets each employee by name as he shuffles up to the counter. Pulling a crisp 50-dollar bill out of his wallet, the cashier knows exactly what the elderly man is here for: chocolate.
HERSHEYS / YouTube
Handing him two full boxes of jumbo Hershey bars – one with almonds, one without – the cashier smiles as Bob cracks open one of the containers and hands her a full bar. Gifting another to the customer in line behind him, Bob heads back out into the streets of Long Grove, determined to make as many days as he can.
Known as “The Candy Man,” Bob Williams has been handing out jumbo Hershey bars to complete strangers in his community for the last 11 years. He was inspired to begin his mission of kindness after reading about a number of “pay it forward” initiatives being promoted across the country.
HERSHEYS / YouTube
Given his lifelong love of chocolate, Bob decided to make his trips to the dollar store worthwhile by sharing his sweets with others. Starting off with purchases of just three bars, Bob would keep one for himself and give the other two away. The responses he got were astonishing.
“You’d think I’d given them keys to a new car,” Bob said of the reactions to his initial act of kindness. “Honest to God, these people were thunderstruck.” From then on, the veteran knew exactly what his “pay it forward” movement would be.
The Des Moines Register
Over the years, Bob has given out over 6,000 Hershey bars within his community. Though he typically reserves his bars for people that “look like they could use a smile,” strangers aren’t the only ones that can expect a sweet treat from this kind old man.
HERSHEYS / YouTube
Jan Hartwig-Heggen, a close friend of Bob’s, estimates that he’s given her between 200-300 chocolate bars, most of which he leaves at her front door. “That’s his signature,” she said. “You always know when Bob has been there.”
Crittercam / Flickr
Another lucky resident that receives frequent visits from “The Candy Man” is Darla Fay, who Bob jokingly asked to be his Valentine one February before handing her an extra-large Hershey bar. Since then, Bob has visited Darla almost every day, always making sure to have some chocolate saved for her.
“Do you remember as a kid, the excitement and joy you felt when you first saw all the gifts Santa left under the Christmas tree?” asked Darla. “That’s the feeling I get when Bob surprises me with a Hershey bar. It just makes me feel like a kid again.”
Travel with Bender
So, how does the 94-year-old keep up with the demand for his satisfying sweets? By stashing them, of course! Bob is known to keep around 500 chocolate bars in his freezer at a time, and he always makes sure to rotate them out so that he’s gifting only the freshest chocolate.
Unsurprisingly, Bob has become something of a celebrity in Long Grove, with nearly everyone knowing his name and his mission. Not a day goes by where cars don’t honk their hellos at him as they pass, and some residents will even approach him to exchange a hug and a smile for a delicious chocolate bar.
HERSHEYS / YouTube
Recently, a local magazine called Our Iowa did a feature on Bob and his remarkable hobby. After reading the article, one of Bob’s neighbors sent it to her son, who worked in Hershey’s corporate strategy department. He presented the story to company executives, and, right then and there, they were hooked.
Inspired by Bob, Hershey began their Heartwarming the World campaign, which sought to spread kindness and compassion nationwide. Taking a page from “The Candy Man’s” book, Hershey encouraged their employees to hand out chocolate bars to strangers, including those recently affected by Hurricane Florence.
HERSHEYS / YouTube
Not only that, but Hershey’s also reached out to Bob directly to make him part of their family. Cutting him a check for $1,500, the company promised to provide Bob with “all the bars he’ll ever need.” Now that’s a kiss!
With all the recognition Bob has received from his giving, he was able to purchase a nearby park bench to serve as a memorial for his late wife, Mary Elizabeth. Visiting the bench daily, Bob says that it’s really his wife who gives him his instructions to deliver his treats each day.
The Des Moines Register
But beyond it all, Bob’s mission is about more than just handing out Hershey bars to strangers. For “The Candy Man” of Long Grove, he hopes that his one small act of goodwill create an avalanche of kindness for people everywhere.
“I hope everybody picks up on that,” said Bob. “We need to lighten up and smile a bit more. Share whatever you can with people. There is no charge for that last bit of advice.”