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A junior high teacher faces a criminal charge after Granite School District officials say he was "grooming" students and sending inappropriate text messages to former students who are still juveniles.

WEST JORDAN — A junior high teacher faces a criminal charge after Granite School District officials say he was "grooming" students and sending inappropriate text messages to former students who are still juveniles.

Brian Gene Fries, 40, of Stansbury Park, was charged Wednesday in 3rd District Court with child abuse, a class A misdemeanor.

Fries was a social studies teacher at Bennion Junior High School, 6055 S. 2700 West, from August 2011 until he was placed on leave Sept. 21, and resigned on Nov. 5.

In September, a 15-year-old girl and her mother went to police stating that Fries had texted the girl 168 times since March, according to charging documents. The teen used to be in Fries' class but now attends high school.

"He repeatedly asked the minor to come and meet with him at the school when no other students would be there," the charges state. "He also texted her a question, 'Do you want to make out?'"

As Fries continued to text the girl, he told her she was "more than his favorite student" and he would send pictures of himself holding a teddy bear that the girl had given him, according to the charges.

The student said "although there was no physical contact between them, the situation was physically, mentally and emotionally tearing her apart," the charges state.

The girl also told a counselor that Fries "had caused her a lot of anxiety and pain and she stopped going to school regularly due to that anxiety," according to investigators.

Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley said the emotional trauma suffered by the girl was the basis for the child abuse charge.

"While there was not serious physical injury, the condition of the case imperiled the health and welfare (of the girl)," he said.

Investigators went through Fries' phone after interviewing him and discovered he was having a sexual relationship with a girl who used to be one of his students, but was now 18 and had graduated from high school, according to court records.

The girl told police that after she graduated from high school that things between her and Fries "escalated quickly," the charges state. She told investigators that Fries claimed he committed sexual acts with her ninth grade photo and that he said he was currently "sexually attracted to three students," according to court documents.

Police interviewed one of those three girls, who is still in high school. She told them that Fries flirted with her and told her to meet him at the junior high, the charges state. In one message, Fries told the girl he had dreams of making out with her, according to court documents.

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Horsley said based on the evidence collected by Granite police officers, there was a "clear pattern of grooming and inappropriate communications" happening between Fries and several female students.

"These were inappropriate communications and they violated appropriate teacher-student boundaries," he said.

Horsley described district officials as being "alarmed" by the grooming and the communications Fries was allegedly having with students. He encouraged any other present or former student who may have had inappropriate communication with Fries to call the school district or police at 801-481-7122.