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Quiet neighborhood horrified by charges of child porn

EAST MANATEE — An uneasy feeling haunted Candace Soehnel to the point that she shooed her three young children inside whenever next-door neighbor Donald Kristen Gagnon was outside in the quiet neighborhood known as Dude Ranch Acres off Caruso Road.

Soehnel said she cried all day and could hardly control her anger when she learned Tuesday morning that Gagnon, owner of Creekside Tennis Center, was in jail on nine counts of possession of child pornography.

By Tuesday afternoon, Gagnon had posted $90,000 bail and was out of jail, according to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

Attempts to reach Gagnon at his Creekside Tennis Center were unsuccessful.

Gagnon taught tennis to youngsters and adults at his academy, on the 6000 block of 47th Avenue East.

A laptop computer belonging to Gagnon was found to have at least nine images that were deemed pornographic, said Dave Bristow, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman.

The images depicted young boys posing in the nude as well as in underwear, according to a Sheriff’s Office report.

The images were under a folder in the computer titled, “students” in the “My Pictures” folder on the hard drive.

After an extensive forensic examination of the computer, thousands of images of child erotica depicting young boys posing in their underwear and multiple images of children either performing and or posing in sexually explicit activities were found, the report states.

The Sheriff’s Office has not yet determined if the photos depict any local children.

“Our investigation is wide open,” Bristow said. “We don’t know if these photos are from anyone local or not. We’re interviewing neighbors. We are asking for help.”

Soehnel’s feelings were so strong that she had her husband build a privacy fence on her side of the shared property line.

“He had kids over there seven days a week,” Soehnel said of Gagnon.

Vern and Dawn Suttle, who live across the street from Gagnon, say the tennis pro moved into the neighborhood about four years ago and took six months to a year to build his tennis court, which was locked up Tuesday.

The Suttles say there were no problems with the tennis academy, which sometimes was open at night, but Vern Suttle wonders why parents would drop their children off for extended stays with one adult.

“This is shocking enough, but more shocking is that some people are not taking care of their own kids,” Vern Suttle said. “You go to someone’s house who is single and see there is no accountability. How could this happen?”

The Suttles have four grown children, including Caleb, who is heading to West Coast Baptist College in California this fall.

“He seemed like a great guy,” Caleb Suttle said of Gagnon. “We would see families dropping off kids. He rode dirt bikes with kids. I had no clue this would happen. He seemed to work hard at what he does.”

Caleb said he was horrified by the alleged crime.

“Children should not be defiled in this way,” Caleb said.

Gagnon was arrested after the sheriff’s office received a tip from the owner of a local computer repair shop.

A man who identified himself as Kris Gannon brought in a Dell Inspiron laptop for repair and a technician working on the hard drive noticed the images, the sheriff’s report states.

If convicted on a third degree felony of possession of child pornography, Gagnon could receive up to five years in prison for each of the nine counts he is charged with, Bristow said.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the Sheriff’s Office at 747-3011, extension 0.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7917.

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