Former Iditarod Elementary teacher sentenced to 46 years on abuse conviction

Former Iditarod Elementary teacher sentenced to 46 years on abuse conviction
Published: May. 30, 2023 at 1:07 PM AKDT|Updated: May. 30, 2023 at 6:02 PM AKDT
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WASILLA, Alaska (KTUU) - A former Mat-Su teacher will serve more than four decades in prison and must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

A Palmer judge sentenced 40-year-old Lukis Nighswonger to a 46-year sentence, with an additional 40 years suspended. Nighswonger has also been assigned 15 years of probation and will need to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Nighswonger worked as a fourth grade teacher at Iditarod Elementary School in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District between 2005 and his arrest in 2018 following an investigation by the Wasilla Police Department. On Tuesday Superior Court Judge Jonathan Woodman accepted a plea agreement between state prosecutors and Nighswonger on 24 separate charges ranging from sexual assault, sexual abuse of a minor, and harassment.

A number of victims and their family members attended Nighswonger’s sentencing hearing at the Palmer Courthouse, two of which read powerful impact statements to their abuser talking about the pain he inflicted on them.

“It disturbs me to know that you have had endless exposure to trusting children and that you decided to hurt them,” one victim said. “You have no future of value and you’re a soulless waste of a human. You deserve to be confined in the hell that we had to survive.”

Another victim recalled how Nighswonger spun him around in an office chair to face away from the classroom and toward the window, saying to their former teacher “I remember that and so do you.”

Since his arrest over four years ago, Nighswonger has admitted guilt, and continued to do so while reading his own statement to his victims.

“I’ve touched children inappropriately — I betrayed them and the parents who trusted me to teach them and protect them — I abused them in the middle of their peers, taking advantage of my popularity and my authority to create confused feelings,” Nighswonger read from a prepared statement. “I can’t even imagine the mental, emotional, and psychological harm experienced by the other children who watched me doing this.”

Nighswonger went on to apologize to 12 of his victims separately, identifying each one by their initials and recalling specific details about what he had done to each one. One of those victims included a customer who Nighswonger had inappropriately groped while measuring a suit for tailoring. Nighswonger worked as a suit salesman at a JC Penney department store before becoming a teacher with the MSBSD.

After the sentencing hearing concluded, the group of victims hugged each other tearfully in the halls of the courthouse. When asked if they wished to speak to the media they politely declined saying Nighswonger “doesn’t deserve any more of our words.”

Nighswonger’s case began before the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused lengthy delays as the Alaska Court System temporarily halted courtroom proceedings.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, resources are available on the Standing Together Against Rape (STAR) website or by calling the statewide crisis hotline at 1-800-478-8999.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect Nighswonger accepted a plea deal and was not convicted at trial, as well as to clarify he is now a former teacher, and to reflect that he faced 24 separate charges.