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NAU student complained of sexual abuse by art instructor

NAU student complained of sexual abuse by art instructor

  • Updated
  • 7

Alcohol-fueled orgies. Sex with a teenage girl. Sexual assault of a recent student.

Those were the allegations facing a former Northern Arizona University art lecturer suspected of fatally shooting his girlfriend and then himself on the San Francisco Peaks in September.

According to the official reports from the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, a 20-year-old NAU student contacted the Flagstaff Police Department Aug. 21 to report that her former art professor, Jeriah Hildwine, 36, had sexually assaulted her at his home near the Railroad Springs neighborhood. The case was referred to the Sheriff’s Office on Aug. 26 because the sexual assault was alleged to have happened at a county residence.

The unidentified student told investigators her relationship with Hildwine turned sexual during NAU's spring 2015 finals week, when he was still her art professor.

Sexual assault is a fireable offense under NAU’s Safe Working and Learning Environment Policy. The same policy also prohibits consensual sexual relationships between faculty and students in cases where the instructor has “direct authority, influence, or responsibility with regard to that student,” such as controlling his or her final grade in a class.

According to her account, on the night of May 4, she, Hildwine and fellow students from Hildwine’s class attended a party in the downtown Flagstaff area that the student described as the final exam for Hildwine’s class. Afterward, Hildwine invited his students to his home in the 200 block of South Dunnam Street. At least three students accepted the invitation, including the victim.

The student described what happened next as an orgy. She told investigators she did not want to participate in sexual acts with Hildwine but did, anyway, because she was afraid of being rejected or ridiculed by the other people at the party. She also said she had consumed “a lot of alcohol.”

The 20-year-old told investigators Hildwine continued to send her text messages for weeks after the orgy. She said she repeatedly made excuses so she would not have to see him, but eventually started to feel guilty about being rude to her professor. She agreed to return to Hildwine’s house for dinner with him and Hildwine's girlfriend, Ashley Darby, on June 17.

The victim said Hildwine then had sex with her without asking for permission.

At some point, she told investigators, she made plans with Hildwine and Darby to return the next night for another orgy.

The victim and other witnesses reported that there was underage drinking at the June 18 orgy, which involved seven people, including Hildwine and Darby, at least one other NAU student from Hildwine’s class and a 17-year-old girl Darby had invited to the party. The victim told police an older man she had been flirting with forced her to perform sexual acts.

During the course of the investigation, Sheriffs’ Office detectives also learned Hildwine and another man had sex with the 17-year-old despite knowing her age. The girl later told police she was extremely intoxicated at the time.

The 20-year-old went to the Northern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault for a sexual assault nurse examination on June 20 but chose not to make a police report at that time.

“When you enter that house, you know this type of thing is going to happen,” the young woman told the nurse during the examination. “They live a voyeuristic lifestyle and I don’t like being alone with (Hildwine).”

The young woman waited until Aug. 21 to report the sexual assault allegations to the police. NAU Director of Public Affairs Cindy Brown said the university’s administration became aware of the allegations the same day.

“An individual shared concerns in person with the Equity and Access Office,” Brown said.

On Aug. 27, NAU President Rita Cheng sent Hildwine a memo informing him that he was being suspended while the university investigated the student’s claims against him.

“Due to allegations of serious misconduct on your part, and based upon my judgement that your presence on campus is likely to constitute a substantial interference with the orderly functioning of your school, effective immediately you are hereby placed on administrative leave with pay from your role as lecturer in the School of Art,” Cheng wrote in the memo.

The next day, Hildwine signed a similar memo from the NAU Equity and Access Office acknowledging he had been notified about the investigation.

“Things did move very quickly,” Brown said. “NAU placed Jeriah Hildwine on leave prior to the start of fall classes. He resigned while on leave and prior to classes starting.”

Darby was in Oklahoma visiting her mother, Trish Cox, when Hildwine unexpectedly flew into Tulsa on Aug. 29. Hildwine submitted his letter of resignation to the dean of NAU’s College of Arts and Letters via email Aug. 30.

“Rather than subject everyone, myself included, to the stress of this investigation, I need to take responsibility for my actions,” he said.

Two days later, Cox said, Darby abruptly cut her Oklahoma trip short and began driving back to Flagstaff with Hildwine. When an investigator with the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office contacted Hildwine by phone Aug. 31, he told him he would be willing to make a statement regarding the sexual assault and sexual conduct with a minor allegations when he got back to town Sept. 2.

Instead, Hildwine and Darby met with a local attorney on the afternoon of Sept. 2. He was the last person confirmed to have seen the couple alive. The next day, Darby’s father reported her missing after she failed to show up to work.

The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue unit found Darby and Hildwine’s bodies in a wooded area near the Abineau-Bearjaw trailhead parking lot on the afternoon of Sept. 23. Both appeared to have been dead for some time.

According to the Sheriff’s report, Darby was shot four times. The Coconino County Medical Examiner’s Office has declared her death a homicide. Hildwine died from a single gunshot wound to the head that appeared to be self-inflicted. His death has been ruled a suicide. Investigators located one 9 millimeter Glock handgun in Hildwine’s right hand and found suicide notes from both victims.

The reporter can be reached at or 556-2261.

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