26-year-old man accused of posing as high school student arrested for sex crimes, police say

Police in Nebraska are looking for students who may have had contact with a 26-year-old man who police allege impersonated a high school student at two high schools this academic year.
Published: Jul. 21, 2023 at 11:54 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 21, 2023 at 1:07 PM EDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN/Gray News) - Lincoln police are seeking anyone who may be a victim of or had contact with a 26-year-old Lincoln man who was arrested for sex crimes after pretending to be a high school student.

Police arrested Zachary Scheich at Lincoln’s Walt Library Thursday afternoon after a several-week investigation that started with a May 31 tip to Lincoln Public Schools by concerned parents.

Scheich is facing three felony charges, two counts of sexual assault using an electronic device and one count of sex trafficking a minor.

The crimes occurred off school grounds, but while Scheich was attending two high schools over the course of the 2022-2023 school year under the alias 17-year-old “Zak Hess.” He went to Northwest in the fall and Southeast in the spring.

Through a search warrant, police said they uncovered text messages between Scheich and young girls.

“In these text messages Scheich would continue to reinforce his false identity as a peer and discuss things like classwork and high school sports,” the investigator writes.

The court documents allege the conversations went on for months, and Scheich would even meet the teens’ families, pretending to be 17-year-old Hess.

The documents detail two relationships with teens. In February, the documents alleged Scheich asked a 14-year-old girl to engage in sexual acts with him. The documents allege in March, Scheich asked a 13-year-old to meet up for sex, if she would lose her virginity to him and if she would send him sexually explicit photos in exchange for money. Police found one record of payment, according to the affidavit.

Police declined to identify what schools the victims attended.

Since news of Scheich’s arrest came out Thursday afternoon, police said three more people who had contact with Scheich have come forward, though the context of those contacts isn’t yet known.

Police are seeking information from anyone else who may have been a victim of, or had contact with, Scheich.

As far as how Scheich was able to pull off the fraud for nearly an entire school year, Lincoln Police Assistant Chief Brian Jackson said Scheich is 5-foot-4,120 pounds, and “appears to have blended in with other students.”

Police said Scheich attended 54 days of school. He went to Northwest for the fall semester and transferred to Southeast for the spring semester. Jackson said while he wasn’t a “frequent attendee,” Scheich did go to classes and had multiple interactions with students.

Police have since learned Scheich actually graduated from Southeast in 2015.

“He didn’t represent himself as a graduate of Lincoln Public Schools. He represented himself as a 17-year-old seeking education,” Jackson said.

The Lincoln Public School district said they do require birth certificates or other proof of identity, as well as transcripts and vaccination records when a new student enrolls. However, because of federal laws that protect students experiencing homelessness, the district is legally required to take any student who claims to be younger than 21 years old, even if they don’t have that documentation.

Joe Wright, security director for LPS described multiple other reasons there could be exceptions to those rules.

“Some parents don’t vaccinate; some homeschool kids don’t have transcripts. We have kids from all across the world who don’t have birth records from war-torn countries,” Wright said. “We have a responsibility to educate all kids.”

In this specific case, it is believed Scheich falsified documents, but the specifics of how he enrolled and who could have been involved are ongoing. Lincoln Public Schools has also started reviewing its enrollment policies.

“I don’t foresee changes because of the requirement we have to educate all kids,” Wright said. “But something like this makes us look to where we could go, and we just started that process.”

Police said there are still a lot of questions to answer about Scheich’s alleged crimes. Jackson said the charges allude to the fact that Scheich was allegedly communicating with students using electronic devices, like a phone or computer. Though Jackson declined to say what schools the students attended, he said all of the victims are female.

Jackson said they have a list of people they’ve already interviewed and another list of interviews yet to happen.

“We’re still gaining information, and we believe there’s more to come,” Jackson said.

Police are asking anyone who had interactions with Scheich or may be a victim to come forward. They said they can call the police department’s non-emergency number at 402-441-6000 or provide an anonymous tip through Crime Stoppers at 402-475-3600.