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JROTC instructor accused in assault is found hanged

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A South Charleston High School JROTC instructor accused of sexually assaulting a student killed himself in New Jersey, police said.

Sgt. Edwin "Eddie" Albert Smuda, 59, of Dunbar, instructed ROTC for more than 15 years at the school. In November, he was suspended without pay when Dunbar police arrested him for alleged first-degree sexual abuse by a parent or guardian.

A juvenile male had accused Smuda of making sexual advances toward him while they were watching a movie at Smuda's Dunbar residence sometime before the summer of 2011, according to a criminal complaint filed in Kanawha County Magistrate Court.

Smuda was found dead Monday night of an apparent hanging at his sister's house in New Jersey, Dunbar Police Chief Earl Whittington confirmed.

Whittington said detectives were investigating Smuda after another student came forward with allegations of abuse. Smuda had been free on bond awaiting a November trial.

Smuda apparently left behind a suicide note, but Whittington did not know what it said. He could not confirm allegations that Smuda confessed to the crime before his death.

"It's not the Police Department's intention to embarrass the individual or his family," Whittington said. "Our heart goes out to the family and all those involved."

Hundreds of people had commented on a Facebook group created by Smuda's former student to offer him support. Some expressed condolences while many expressed anger and confusion about Smuda's alleged confession.

Lynda Woods-Morningstar, of Cross Lanes, wrote that she and her son went to the FBI about conversations she had with Smuda more than two weeks ago. She said he confessed to the crime and mentioned it again when she spoke to him Sunday night.

"One of Eddie's last conversations with me last night was 'it just happened and I was the adult and they all trusted me,'" Woods-Morningstar wrote. "No words can hurt the victims anymore than they have already been hurt, nor is it going to help the family. Just pray for all involved."

Woods-Morningstar declined to comment to the Gazette. Phone calls to Smuda's family were not returned.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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