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Texas teacher told students he’s famous, and their web search landed him on leave

DALLAS — A Grand Prairie teacher told his students they should look him up on the internet. When they did, they discovered that he had been arrested in 2013 and accused of threatening that he was capable of a Sandy Hook-like shooting.

Christopher Durham, a teacher at Grand Prairie Collegiate Institute, has been working for Grand Prairie Independent School District since August. In a letter sent home to parents Monday, area Superintendent Traci Davis said Durham “will be excused from all employment responsibilities” until an investigation is complete.

Durham, 46, has not been convicted of any crime and awaits trial this November. He and his attorney could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

A parent with a son in sixth grade said Durham told students Friday to look him up on the internet because he was famous. She did not want to be named because she feared for her safety.

During their bus ride home, she said, students found news reports about their teacher’s arrest in Oklahoma.

“They were expecting him to be in a movie or on a TV show or winning the lottery — not getting arrested,” she said. “After kids read the stories, they’re freaking out.”

She was upset that Durham willingly brought up his past to the students.

“I don’t know his frame of mind. If something were to make him upset, what would happen?” she said.

She wondered how Durham wasn’t already on the school’s radar.

“How did this man get hired? Did they do a background check? Did it come up and they still hired him?” she said.

Grand Prairie ISD spokesman Sam Buchmeyer said the school conducted background checks and nothing came up in the search. These checks are done through the state and include information from the FBI and its national database.

After he was asked whether the district conducted a Google search before Durham was hired, Buchmeyer said in a statement:

“While we have never used name-based research through an internet search engine, in light of this situation, we are considering additional tools to screen candidates for employment.”

He said Durham was removed from the classroom pending an investigation.

The Oklahoma County district attorney’s office charged Durham in 2013 with threatening an act of violence to do physical harm.

Durham was accused of making threats against a judge and attorneys during his divorce case.

Durham told his attorney, Chris Reser, that the judge and his wife’s attorneys didn’t realize he was “capable of doing things along the lines of what just happened in Newtown, Connecticut,” according to an affidavit.

Twenty children and six adults were killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton in December 2012.

Reser said that Durham was distraught and aware his court case was a lost cause, according to the affidavit.

Durham told KXAS-TV by telephone late Tuesday that the charges are completely false and he’s confident he will be exonerated.

He declined to comment further and referred questions to the district.

Mark Opgrande, spokesman for the Oklahoma County sheriff’s office, said the absence of a conviction and trial may explain why the school failed to pick up on Durham’s background.

Durham was fired by Epic Charter Schools in Oklahoma City after his arrest, according to KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City.

Durham, who teaches middle school science, technology, engineering and mathematics classes at the Grand Prairie school, has 11 years of experience in public education, according to his bio on the school’s website. He is also a military veteran.