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Crime & Courts

Police: More victims of Sycamore gym instructor found

Energym didn't check background of ex-employee accused of child sex abuse

Joseph R. Hannon, 21, of the 1700 block of DeKalb Avenue, Sycamore, was charged Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, with aggravated criminal sexual abuse.
Joseph R. Hannon, 21, of the 1700 block of DeKalb Avenue, Sycamore, was charged Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, with aggravated criminal sexual abuse.

SYCAMORE – Police said they have identified three more children who were sexually abused by Joseph R. Hannon, a former gymnastics instructor whose employer says was hired without a criminal background check.

In a letter sent to some parents this week, Energym owner Andy Morreale said the club “typically checked the backgrounds of all of our noncompetitive adult instructors.”

But it didn’t check Hannon, 21, of Sycamore, who has been charged with criminal sexual abuse of a child and predatory criminal sexual assault of a child.

Hannon had been arrested several times in DeKalb County and was on felony probation in an October 2013 drug case when he was hired.

“With regards to Hannon, he had taken classes here in his youth and worked part time beginning in September 2015 as a student instructor before getting hired full time in August 2016,” Morreale wrote. “After his arrest, we checked our records and learned that a background check had not been performed on him. He was the only adult instructor whose background was not checked against criminal court records.”

Hannon has been in custody since Dec. 7, when he was arrested on charges that he sexually abused a 9-year-old girl during an open gym session Nov. 25 at Energym. The incident was captured on video, police said.

Days later, more charges were added in connection with three incidents with another 9-year-old girl during a tumbling course Hannon taught over the summer at Energym.

Hannon could face as many as 60 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge, predatory criminal sexual assault of a child. The list of charges against him is likely to grow.

On Monday, Sycamore Police Chief Glenn Theriault told the City Council that three more victims had been identified.

“We’re concerned because we think there are a lot more [victims], but in terms of a prosecutable case, we’re at five right now and continuing to interview children that have been there,” Theriault said. “The building owner, gym owner, has been working with us and cooperating with us. We hope to bring that case to a close within the coming week, week and a half.”

When Hannon first was arrested, prosecutors said he may have inappropriately touched as many as 30 children at Energym’s facilities in Sycamore and Genoa. In addition to employing Hannon, Morreale also rented an apartment to him near the gym.

Morreale said that the gym leaders “have always prided ourselves on taking steps beyond what the law requires to ensure that the tens of thousands of students who have participated in our programs are safe.”

While background checks on employees aren’t required by law, the sport’s governing body, USA Gymnastics, encourages the practice.

In April 2015, USA Gymnastics published and distributed a 38-page Clubs Care Campaign Quick Reference Guide in recognition of National Child Abuse Prevention Month. The guide includes information about hiring and screening practices along with sample policies and a sample application that asks job seekers about past criminal convictions and pending criminal charges.

Further, it recommended clubs “thoroughly screen each prospective employee before offering employment or prospective volunteer before offering an assignment” and asked clubs to “consider how frequently staff/volunteers will be re-screened.”

Reached Tuesday, Morreale declined to comment beyond what was included in the letter to parents.

Going forward, Morreale wrote in the letter that Energym would require background checks.

“Beginning immediately, all of our adult instructors are required to obtain certification from USA Gymnastics, which includes criminal background checks conducted by the accredited National Center for Safety Initiatives, which was formed in partnership with the National Council of Youth Sports,” he wrote. “Most of our instructors are already certified by USA Gymnastics.”

Court records show Hannon pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of a controlled substance in connection with an October 2013 incident in which he sold the prescription drug Xanax within 1,000 feet of a senior housing complex in DeKalb.

While on probation, he tested positive for marijuana in May 2015, and he failed to submit two other drug tests, according to court records. He also was arrested for petty offenses including retail theft in March 2015 and charges of resisting a police officer and possession of marijuana in August 2015.

• Daily Chronicle reporter Stephanie Markham contributed to this report.

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