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The case of three male students from West Springfield High School who were arrested at the school Jan. 11 on child pornography charges now will play out in the legal arena.

The three teens, ages 16, 16 and 15, have been charged with the possession, reproduction, distribution, solicitation and facilitation of child pornography, according to Fairfax County Police. They all have pleaded not guilty and been released to the custody of their parents.

The charge, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, stems from videos of six teenage girls from West Springfield and other area high schools engaged in various sexual acts and stages of undress, all allegedly taken and distributed by the three boys.

“This case originated on Nov. 29 when the school resource officer at the school was told about it,” said Master Police Officer Eddy Azcarate. “As it grew, the SRO discovered there were six female teen victims and sought the help of our child exploitation unit. As a result, the three suspects were charged on Jan. 11 at the high school. The case remains under investigation.”

Following the arrests of the three students, West Springfield High School Principal Mark Greenfelder sent a letter home to the parents of all students, explaining what happened.

“I want to be very clear that while arrests were made here at school the students did not engage in any of these alleged behaviors at school or during school hours,” he said. “The charges that are pending all revolve around alleged inappropriate activity that occurred outside of school over an extended period of time.”

FCPS school board member Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield District) has said publicly that she was dismayed by the fact that the boys were arrested at the school and said she will pursue a conversation with police about future such arrests. “Public schools can’t be used as an extension of the criminal justice system,” she said.

Fairfax County Public Schools spokesman John Torre declined to comment on whether the school system would engage any of its own disciplinary actions against the three male students. “The SRO at West Springfield High School was informed of these allegations back in November and a police investigation was subsequently launched,” he said. “However, FCPS did not conduct a ‘separate’ investigation and does not comment on student disciplinary matters.”

Defense attorneys Mark Petrovich and Gretchen Taylor now represent two of the boys, and attorney Mark G. Leffler represents the third. According to Leffler, the nearly dozen or so videos in question all were of consensual sex taken at parties and other locations and that the girls in the videos were not under the influence of any drugs. “It’s an unfortunate mix of teenage libido, alcohol and video. It’s nothing more than that,” he said.

Capt. Bruce Ferguson of the Fairfax County Police Community Resources Division sits on the board of directors for the Unified Prevention Coalition of Fairfax County, a nonprofit coalition made up of local community leaders to prevent alcohol and substance abuse among Fairfax County teens. Ferguson has six daughters of his own, four of whom are teens.

“Sexual encounters and other poor decisions made by impaired underage drinkers can be harmful to themselves and others for the rest of their lives,” Ferguson said. “These days almost everyone has a video camera on their phone and once something gets on the Internet, there’s no retrieving it.”

The defense attorneys maintain that their clients distributed the videos only among themselves and that they were not posted online anywhere publicly.

No court date had been set as of Thursday.