UPDATE: August 24, 2022 7:00 p.m.
PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — It only took one parent notifying the Bay County Sheriff’s Office to reveal there could be several local minors being sexually abused.
The suspect is 31-year-old Zackary Peterson from Panama City.
Peterson coached many youth football teams in and around Bay County.
“So we’re in the process now of working with those organizations to identify which teams he was with, what kids he would have had contact with, and then reaching out to those parents as well,” Bay County sheriff’s Criminal Investigations Lieutenant Jeremy Mathis said.
The investigation started after a 14-year-old’s parent discovered her child was having disturbing conversations with Peterson.
He reportedly asked for inappropriate pictures and touched the victim in a sexual manner at least one time.
Authorities said he also bought the child items and sent him money.
Peterson’s charges are stacking up.
Investigators said they’re finding more victims by examining his cell phone.
“We already know that he’s been in contact with other minors. We’re in the process currently of contacting them and conducting interviews,” Mathis said. “We’ve interviewed two so far. We’ve got at least two more right now that we want to find and we believe that number is only going to grow.”
Peterson also recently worked as a cook for the Laguna Beach Christian Retreat.
His facebook reads he started in 2016.
His employer, John Haaf, said he left earlier this year.
“His job was to cook and prepare the food that the campers would eat,” Managing Partner Haaf said. “He was not in direct interaction with students here at my camp.”
Haaf said they never received an accusation or complaint about Peterson.
“It literally makes me sick to my stomach that someone would do this to a child,”Haaf said.
An estimated 20,000 students go through the retreat’s doors each summer.
Haaf said he’s more than willing to work with authorities through this investigation.
Investigators said parents often don’t realize when their children are hiding something on their phone.
They urge you to pay more attention to their behavior and have hard conversations.
If your child was in a local youth football program, Lieutenant Mathis asks you to ask them if they know Peterson.
Our previous version of the story is below.
PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Bay County Sheriff’s investigators are warning the public after they arrested a man for lewd and lascivious conduct and noted that he “has been affiliated with multiple youth football associations.”
On Tuesday, investigators interviewed a 14-year-old who said they were in contact with 31-year-old Zackary Peterson, online as well as in person.
“The victim said Peterson was asking for inappropriate images and had touched the victim in a sexual manner on at least one occasion,” deputies said in a news release. “It was also discovered that Peterson was purchasing items for the child, as well as sending him money via an online payment application.”
Peterson was interviewed, and he was only joking with the victim, but one of the inappropriate images of the victim was found on Peterson’s phone, they added.
Peterson was taken to the Bay County Jail where he was charged with lewd or lascivious conduct, as well as the use of a computer to solicit a child for a sexual act.
Deputies added that anyone who has concerns their child may have been victimized by Peterson is urged to call the Bay County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Division, and ask for Lt. Jeremy Mathis, Cpl. Jake McGowin, or Inv. Jake Roberts. Call 850-747-4700.