Sunday, January 21, 2018
Public safety

Youth gymnastics coach accused of sex with 13-year-old in Hillsborough

BRANDON — A Lakeland youth gymnastics coach was accused Wednesday of molesting a 13-year-old girl in Hillsborough County.

Justin Thomas Henry, 21, was charged with lewd and lascivious battery for two incidents in which he engaged in sexual activity with the girl, including one on Monday morning, according to an arrest affidavit.

Sheriff's deputies arrested Henry at 3 a.m. Wednesday at a home in Brandon. The girl's mother checked on her daughter at 2 a.m. and found her bedroom door locked, the Sheriff's Office said. The mother found Henry hiding in the girl's closet, and the girl told her mother she and Henry had sex, authorities said.

Henry is known to the victim, the Sheriff's Office said. He was booked in the Hillsborough County jail and held on $7,500 bail.

Jail records indicate that Henry is a coach with Elite World Gymnastics in Lakeland. It was unclear whether the victim was one of his students.

This is second time in recent months that Henry has been charged with a crime involving children.

Early the morning of April 19, he picked up three 14-year-old girls, one of whom was enrolled in a tumbling class that he taught, and took them to Clearwater Beach without their parents' permission, according to Polk County sheriff's deputies.

In Henry's car, the girls were allowed to drink alcohol, according to an arrest report. At one point, Henry put his hand on one girl's thigh and asked when he could call her his girlfriend, the report stated.

Clearwater police later stopped the car and notified the girls' parents. Two weeks later, Polk County authorities charged Henry with interfering with child custody. He pleaded not guilty, court records show. That case is still pending.

A man who answered the phone Wednesday afternoon at Elite World Gymnastics declined to comment on the Hillsborough arrest.

The gym offers gymnastics and cheerleading classes and summer camp programs for children, according to its website.

Henry tagged the gym in several photos on the social media website Instagram. His Instagram profile includes several photos and videos showing Henry lifting young girls as they jump and tumble over rubber mats.

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