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Ex-high school guidance counselor gets strong support despite admitting to sexual assaults on student

Union Leader Correspondent

July 09. 2018 7:59PM
Kristie Torbick speaks to the student she sexually assaulted while a guidance counselor at Exeter High School. (Jason Schreiber /Correspondent)

BRENTWOOD — Former Exeter High School guidance counselor Kristie Torbick will spend at least 2½ years in prison after pleading guilty Monday to sexually assaulting a 14-year-old student on multiple occasions.

Torbick, 39, of Lee, was sentenced after an emotional hearing in which she expressed remorse. Several others who spoke on her behalf, including educators, described her as a counselor who was dedicated to the profession and helping students. Some asked the judge to show leniency.

The wife and mother of three pleaded guilty to four counts of felonious sexual assault for incidents involving a freshman she met when she began working at the high school in the fall of 2016.

“The remorse and regret that I have for this situation is immeasurable,” Torbick told the court before Rockingham County Superior Court Judge Andrew Schulman sentenced her to 2½ to five years in prison. She was also given a 3 1/2- to seven-year suspended sentence — far less than the decades she could have faced in prison if convicted by a jury.

Assistant County Attorney Melissa Fales had asked for a five- to 10-year sentence. She described how the victim was a freshman and spent part of most days in Torbick’s office. Fales said Torbick sent partially nude photos to the victim and they exchanged 23,000 text messages.

According to Fales, Torbick sexually assaulted the student outside O’neil Cinemas in Epping in late December 2016 and again behind Stillwell’s Riverwalk Ice Cream in Exeter and in the bedroom of her home in Lee in early January 2017 when she “hatched” a plan for the victim to baby-sit her children.

Fales said that throughout the relationship Torbick told the victim that her life would be ruined if anyone found out and that she would lose her children and go to prison.

“The victim should know that none of this is his fault. He was a 14-year-old kid,” Fales said, adding that the student should be commended for coming forward and that Torbick was “the one who was ultimately silencing the victim.”

The victim explained how life has changed and how he now suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, an eating disorder and other problems. He also said he now distrusts adults.

“I fear being taken advantage of again,” he said, adding, “The trauma of it all is debilitating in my daily life.”

At one point, as some of the nearly two dozen Torbick supporters spoke, the victim began to cry and left the courtroom.

As part of the plea, county prosecutors agreed to drop other sexual assault and aggravated felonious sexual assault charges. Torbick also surrendered her education credential.

Torbick, who was a guidance counselor at Bedford High School before taking the Exeter job, insisted that in her nine years as a school guidance counselor and 19 years as a volunteer at a camp for children with cancer, she never engaged in inappropriate behavior with children.

She described her job at Exeter High School as overwhelming as she dealt with suicidal students and other problems. She said she became “hypersensitive to students in crisis.”

Torbick said she could never turn a student away and wanted to help all of them, but that it eventually led her to make poor choices.

She apologized to the victim for failing to set firm boundaries and for any unrest the student experienced.

“In spite of my sincere initial intention to help, I confused and complicated that intent,” she said.

Among those who spoke in support of Torbick during sentencing was Shelly Philbrick, a guidance counselor at Newfound Regional High School.

“I pray the court show justice for the victim, but also leniency upon Kristie today,” Philbrick said, adding that Torbick has also suffered by losing her reputation, credentials, and dignity.

Philbrick praised Torbick for her work as a guidance counselor.

“No doubt, Kristie’s crossing of professional boundaries, the particulars of which are not evident to most of us in this room today and shall remain unknown. However, I know in my heart the intent was for her to help. This is the character of the person facing sentencing here today,” she said.

Zanna Blaney, the dean of students who oversees the counseling office at Bedford High School, also offered praise for Torbick.

She said she’s known Torbick for several years and spoke at length about how she never had a concern about her as a counselor. At one point she shared excerpts from evaluations that she wrote for Torbick when she worked in Bedford. She described her as a “pro when it comes to making a student feel heard and their feeling validated.”

She said Torbick never went beyond “ethical standards.”

“I witnessed nothing but the highest level of professionalism and care for each student as an individual. Kristie never showed any signs of misunderstanding her role and the boundaries that we all live by,” Blaney said.

Before handing down his sentence, Judge Schulman said that even if Torbick was in over her head with her new job in Exeter, she had to know that sexually assaulting a student “won’t make things better.”

“Whatever Ms. Torbick knew she had to know this was not the right way to deal with it,” he said.

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