A popular 60-year-old teacher at Lincoln Middle School in Santa Monica has been arrested on suspicion of molesting four of his female students in incidents that occurred during school hours, authorities said.
In at least one case, the alleged abused continued for more than a year, according to Santa Monica police.
Thomas Arthur Beltran, a Los Angeles resident who has taught in Santa Monica for about 30 years, was taken into custody Saturday and remained jailed in lieu of $1.1 million bail, police said. He had yet to be charged by the district attorney's office.
Santa Monica police announced the arrest at a news conference Sunday, and Lt. Alex Padilla later said investigators wanted to "make sure, if we have any other victims out there, we can talk to them before we present the case to the D.A."
Some parent leaders at the school said they found the allegations difficult to believe.
"He has a stellar reputation," said one parent, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter. "He was known to have a really good character -- well-respected, a nice guy."
Beltran was arrested after a rapid investigation that began Friday when the parents of a 12-year-old student of his brought her to police headquarters, said Lt. Dan Salerno. The child had told her parents that Beltran molested her, and she repeated her account to detectives, Salerno said.
Investigators interviewed Beltran's other students and identified three others who allegedly were victimized, the lieutenant added.
"We believe there are more victims," he said. "And we are asking anyone who is a victim to come forward."
Dianne Talarico, superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, said police contacted her Friday and asked for the names of classmates of the girl who came forward. She said police told her that they spoke with children at their homes Friday evening.
Talarico said school staff members met with some parent volunteers Sunday. A meeting for all parents was set for 7 p.m. today at the school. She said counselors would be available at the campus during the school day.
Padilla said some questions remained unanswered. "We don't know exactly where [the alleged molestations] occurred," he said. "Some of them may have occurred outside the classroom and out of other people's views."
Citing the ongoing investigation, Padilla declined to say what acts the alleged molestations involved.
A call to Beltran's home Sunday was answered by a woman who identified herself as the sister of his wife. She had no comment, other than to say that the family was trying to find an attorney for him. Beltran has been married for 35 years, according to public records.
He teaches English as a second language to seventh-graders and has worked at Lincoln for two decades, police said.
His daughter, Jennifer, had followed in his footsteps and became a middle school teacher in Northern California before her death from cancer four years ago at the age of 30. A scholarship fund for underprivileged youngsters has been established in her name.
George Lopez, 33, who was married to Jennifer for nearly five years and has known the family for about a decade, said he was shocked to hear of Beltran's arrest. He said he last saw Beltran about three years ago, when he traveled to Los Angeles for the first anniversary of his wife's death. Jennifer was Beltran's only child, Lopez said.
He said Beltran had been very family-oriented, loved photography and was "a great all-around person."
"Very, very difficult to believe," Lopez said of the allegations. "I mean, he's been the least likely person I could think of, of everybody that I know that is in a position like that, who would do something like that."
Christina Hobkirk, wife of Lincoln Assistant Principal Carl Hobkirk, said she felt the same way. The Hobkirks have had three children attend the school.
"I don't know what evidence they have or anything like that, but it just doesn't seem possible," Hobkirk said. "I just think that it can't be."
She said she and Beltran spoke often about the loss of a child after the seizure-related death of her 18-year-old daughter last June.
"He's such a nice guy," she said. Her husband could not be reached.
Debbie Mulvaney, the mother of an eighth-grade boy at the school, said she also was stunned by the accusations. "I'm totally surprised," she said. "The school has a fabulous reputation."
The case follows the recent arrest of a former assistant principal for the Los Angeles Unified School District. Steve Thomas Rooney, 39, who last worked at Markham Middle School in Watts, has been ordered to stand trial on charges of molesting three students.
District officials transferred Rooney to Markham just months after he had been investigated for allegedly having sex with a student and pulling a gun on her stepfather.
Times staff writers Hector Becerra and Tami Abdollah contributed to this report.