WASHINGTON – Investigators say Eric Justin Toth’s five-year run as a fugitive began when he was fired from his teaching job at a prestigious private school after a fellow employee found images of child pornography taken with a school camera the man had been using.
It ended over the weekend when Nicaraguan authorities acting on a tip found him living in that country illegally, with phony passports, driver’s licenses and credit cards. The FBI has said it’s investigating why Toth was living there, but the bureau has previously said that he may have been advertising online for work as a nanny or tutor.
Now, investigators are trying to piece together how he avoided capture even after being placed on the FBI’s most wanted list, a notorious designation reserved for dangerous criminals that has featured the likes of Osama bin Laden and Whitey Bulger.
They’re encouraging any other potential abuse victims to come forward as prosecutors proceed with a federal child pornography case against the 31-year-old Toth, who was ordered held without bond during a brief court appearance Tuesday.
The fact that he is a known child predator and that he’s been on the run for five years, we assume that there’s potentially other victims in other places that he’s been over the past five years, said Valerie Parlave, the head of the FBI’s Washington field office.
The arrest Saturday, near the border with Honduras, ended a frustrating international manhunt for the computer-savvy teacher and camp counselor.
There were tantalizing clues along the way – a fake suicide note in Minnesota, an apparent sighting at a homeless shelter in Arizona, a tip that led agents on an extensive search of South America – but he continued to elude the authorities, even as pictures of his bespectacled and sometimes bearded face were featured on news programs, billboards across the country and the FBI’s list of 10 most wanted fugitives.
The big break came last week when a female tourist who encountered Toth in a social setting contacted authorities after recognizing him, FBI spokeswoman Jacqueline Maguire said.
Toth first arrived in Nicaragua in October and appeared to have spent at least part of his time in that country creating false identities and ID documents, police said. When his house was raided, police found passports, driver’s licenses and credit cards from three banks, under different names, suggesting he was preparing new false identities to use, national Police Chief Aminta Granera said.
Toth had been teaching third grade at Beauvoir, a private elementary school that occupies 60 acres on the grounds of the Washington National Cathedral. Although not the most socially adept guy, he was an engaged teacher who even incorporated lessons on why people do or don’t do the right things, recalled Michele Booth Cole, whose daughter was in Toth’s class.
The media card with the pornographic images was found in a box addressed to Toth at the school, the complaint says. Toth was fired and escorted from campus after the images were discovered. He disappeared immediately, long before anyone could arrest him.
In April 2012, the FBI, concerned that the trail was going cold and that Toth’s experience in interacting with children and earning their trust might be putting other kids at risk, added him to its most wanted list.