PERRYVILLE, Mo. -- An 18-year-old Perryville man remained behind bars Sunday night on multiple counts of statutory rape and child molestation after a police investigation revealed he was having sex with at least six eighth-grade girls.
Austin Luye used similar methods in every case, according to court filings: Approach the girls first on Facebook, then coax them out into public -- usually somewhere close to the school -- and finally lure them to someplace more secluded where he persuaded some to have sex with him.
Luye is charged in Perry and St. Francois counties with a total of eight counts of first-degree statutory rape that prosecutors claim took place during a four-month period that ended in January. Each of the felonies carries a possible punishment of five years to life in prison because the victims were younger than 14 years old.
Luye also faces three misdemeanor counts of child molestation in a case in which he almost exclusively selected 13-year-old girls, authorities say. In one case, he used one victim to encourage other young girls into sexual encounters with him, according to authorities.
"He's been active," said Perry County Sheriff Gary Schaaf. "You never really know if every person who was assaulted in these sorts of crimes have come forward. But we're confident in what we do have and want to make sure he can't keep doing this."
When Luye was about to be arrested, the statements say, he begged the girls not to cooperate with police.
"Please don't press charges on me," he reportedly wrote one in a text message. "I didn't do nothing and I won't ever talk to anyone at all. I don't want to get in trouble."
Luye was in custody at the St. Francois County Jail in Farmington, Mo., on $110,000 cash-only bond. Luye has an April 19 initial arraignment scheduled. When he has answered those charges, he is to be transported to Perryville to face charges there.
Luye's lawyer, Jason Tilley, and Perry County prosecuting attorney Thomas Hoeh could not be reached for comment.
Perry County School District officials distanced themselves from the case last week, despite the fact that Luye is alleged to have met with the girls in several instances on school property. In one case, police say he met a girl near a football field and a second near a track and field area. The acts of which he is accused mostly took place at one of Luye's two homes -- one near Longtown, Mo., which he shares with his mother, and one in Perryville, where he lives with his father.
Perry County Middle School assistant principal Stephen Phillips declined to comment and school superintendent Kevin Dunn said that it is a "nonschool issue" because the alleged sex acts did not occur on school grounds.
"This isn't a school incident," Dunn said. "Mr. Luye is not a student at Perryville and there's no incident or any issues with him on campus. So this is a nonschool-related incident on campus."
Statutory rape in Missouri is used to describe an offense that takes place when someone has sex with a person not old enough to legally give consent. The girls in the Perry County case fit the profile, research shows. About 60 percent of female adolescents who report statutory rape are between 13 and 15 years old.
Two charging documents from each county lay out the police version of events that claim Luye, who was 17 years old for much of the four-month period, had multiple encounters with five girls in Perry County and one in Farmington -- and perhaps more.
It came to a head in Perry County in January, when two girls were caught arguing about an older male they were involved with named Austin. The assistant principal, Phillips, gathered information about a 17- to 18-year-old boy who was communicating with middle-school-age students. Eventually, he was told the students had engaged in sexual conduct with Luye. In some of the cases, the girls acknowledged that they had sex with Luye.
One, called only A.J. in police affidavits, said she met Luye for the first time at the Perryville High School football field after exchanging Facebook messages, the statement says. After they walked around the bleachers and talked, according to the statement, he invited her back to his residence to watch movies. That's when, the statement says, Luye started his assault, having sex with the girl even after she had told him "no sex."
Investigators learned of the St. Francois County charges -- one statutory rape count, one for child molestation -- and soon charges were filed against Luye.
Tammy Gwaltney of Beacon Health Center, an agency that deals with victims of sexual assault, would not comment specifically on this case, but she said it is not known how people become offenders of such crimes.
"Well, that is always the million-dollar question," she said. "If we knew, really knew, what caused some to behave that way, we'd certainly be able to stop or prevent it from happening. But we can't. That's why it's so difficult to say who potential offenders might be. We don't really know. And that's scary."
15 W. Sainte Marie St., Perryville, Mo.