"All of the warning signs were there," said plaintiff's attorney Brian Kabateck. "Everything was there for the school district to know and realize they had someone who was a predator."
David Blancas might have worn the red jumpsuit of an accused criminal to court in 2012, but after he pleaded not guilty, some former students said he was a hero to them.
Weeks later, investigators tracked down those same students.
"They showed three pictures of me and then told me if I could figure it was me and I said 'yeah'," E.R. said in a group interview after the boys filed lawsuits against the school district.
Secret pornographic images converted four teenaged boys from defending Blancas to becoming victims of Blancas.
For years at the K-8 Monson-Sultana school, they'd known him as a father figure who was friendly enough to sign their yearbooks - "Thanks for everything, you mack," he signed in one -- and generous enough to fill their homes with candy, clothes, video games, and more.
"The keys to the car he gave you," R.V. said as he tossed those keys to the man we're identifying as E.R.
Turning a blind eye to teacher sex abuse has cost small South Valley school district $6.8 million.— Corin Hoggard (@corinhoggard) May 29, 2018
My exclusive update on the abuser (whose yearbook message here is now tainted and creepy) and 20 years' worth of missed clues, at 6 @abc30. pic.twitter.com/l5LZzMbyJO
"He gave me a car," E.R. said.
We are not identifying the boys because the investigation revealed the gifts were all part of a grooming process where Blancas got close to students, then took advantage of them -- usually while they slept.
One of his victims was awake, but just 11 years old when Blancas started a sexual relationship.
"Their lives will never be the same," Kabateck said. "The school district will never be the same. And it really is unfortunate because this was avoidable."
Kabateck sued the school on behalf of the boys in 2015 and discovered the first report of abuse by Blancas dated back to 1991 -- before several of his victims were even born.
Kabateck says the district swept the complaint under the rug and then didn't uncover new sex crimes in 2001, eventually exposing more than 20 years' worth of students to abuse.
"He could've gone on for who knows how long and there would've just been more victims and it would've been terrible," said R.V. "That school was like his feeding ground."
"And the strong message that we want, that the boys want, is school districts have to be, particularly today, more vigilant and careful," Kabateck said. "Because there is a cost to be paid for not watching what's going on."
The cost to Monson-Sultana School District has now added up to $6.8 million in settled lawsuits.
Blancas is serving a life sentence in prison.