The coach and stars of the Navarro College cheerleading team featured in Netflix's docuseries “Cheer” are speaking out following the arrest of one of their former team members, Jerry Harris. Harris, one of the fan favorites on the show, has been charged with producing child pornography.
"My heart is shattered into a million pieces," Coach Monica Aldama shared in a post to Instagram early Friday. "I am devastated by this shocking, unexpected news," which followed an exclusive USA TODAY investigation.
"Our children must be protected from abuse and exploitation, and I'm praying hard for the victims and everyone affected," the "Dancing with the Stars" competitor added. "Please respect our privacy as our family mourns during this heartbreaking time."
Jerry Harris from 'Cheer' charged with producing child porn. He admitted receiving explicit photos from minors, court records show
A post shared by Monica Aldama (@monicaaldama) on Sep 18, 2020 at 12:35am PDT
La'Darius Marshall, a "Cheer" lead who has called Harris his best friend and had been open on the show about his own childhood trauma, also took to Instagram on Friday to share his reaction to the "gut wrenching" news about his former teammate.
"I feel as though I have had the wind knocked out of me. How could this happen?" he wrote. "As a victim of sexual abuse as a child, I know all too well the pain of experiencing this type of abuse and the difficulties it can create for life after such trauma ... I pray for healing for everyone involved."
A post shared by La’Darius Marshall (@ladarius_marshall17) on Sep 18, 2020 at 1:47pm PDT
On Friday afternoon, another popular "Cheer" cast member, Gabi Butler, also shared her thoughts on the news about Harris.
"Like most of you, I am shocked, dismayed and deeply saddened by the recent news," she said. "Ever since I heard the news I have gone back and forth between sobbing uncontrollably and trying to wrap my head around why something like this could happen."
She added that she has "was never aware of anything like what has been accused of taking place" and emphasized that the "protection of children" is of utmost importance.
"As a Christian woman, the only thing I know to do is to pray for all involved and for the world we live in," she wrote. "My heart is broken."
A post shared by Gabi Butler (@gabibutler1617) on Sep 18, 2020 at 12:45pm PDT
According to federal court records, Harris admitted to agents that he solicited and received explicit messages on Snapchat from at least 10 to 15 individuals he knew were minors, had sex with a 15-year-old at a cheerleading competition in 2019 and paid a 17-year-old money in exchange for nude photos.
Harris, who experienced a meteoric rise to fame in January after he became the breakout star of “Cheer,” has been under investigation by the FBI for soliciting photos and sex from minors.
USA TODAY reported Monday that the initial criminal investigation was based on allegations brought by 14-year-old twin brothers. In interviews, the boys described a pattern of harassment, both online and at cheer competitions, that started when they were 13 and Harris was 19. They said it continued for more than a year. On Monday the FBI executed a search warrant at Harris' Naperville, Illinois, home. Since then, agents have interviewed other minors about their interactions with Harris, court records show.
Jerry Harris had a meteoric rise, and an even faster fall
Cheerleading has a list of people banned from the sport. It was missing 74 convicted sex offenders.
Harris appeared Thursday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge M. David Weisman. Harris did not enter a plea.
Prosecutor Christopher Parente described Harris as a danger to the community and asked the judge to keep him in detention. The judge said Harris will remain detained until a hearing at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, at which time the court would determine if Harris could be released on bond or under some other condition. If convicted, Harris faces 15 to 30 years in federal prison.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jerry Harris' cheer coach, teammates react to 'shocking' arrest news