Coach Allegedly Molested Students by Making Them Strip Naked Under Pretext of Measuring Body Fat

Former students alleged to WPRI that Aaron Thomas would ask them if they were "shy or not shy"

Aaron Thomas coach - north kingston
Aaron Thomas. Photo: WPRI

A former Rhode Island high school basketball coach has been charged with child molestation and sexual assault in connection to an alleged "fat-testing" program administered to student athletes.

In a news release issued by the office of Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha on Thursday, authorities allege 55-year-old Aaron Thomas — a former teacher and basketball coach at North Kingstown High School in North Kingstown, R.I., from 1990 to 2021 — "engaged in sexual contact with two victims" stemming from the performance of purported body fat tests.

WPRI-TV spoke to students and former at the school who alleged that during Thomas' three-decade tenure, he convinced student athletes to strip down to their underwear in a closet connected to the boys' locker room to measure their body fat during his time at the high school.

According to the students, Thomas would then allegedly ask student athletes if they were "shy or not shy," the outlet reports.

If students responded they were "not shy," Thomas would allegedly instruct them to remove their underwear and he would use a tool to measure the area of their upper inner thighs, the students told the outlet.

"I didn't want to be 'not shy' because my entire childhood I wanted to play varsity basketball for North Kingstown," a former student previously told WPRI. "A lot of my heroes were ex-players that played there; people I looked up to, especially him. I really wanted him to like me, I wanted him to respect me."

Students told the outlet they would undergo monthly testing. Thomas allegedly extended the testing to athletes on the school's football and wrestling teams, as well.

According to the release, the second-degree child molestation charge alleges Thomas engaged in sexual contact with a victim under the age of 14 years old between September 2000 and February 2002.

Additionally, the second-degree sexual assault charge alleges Thomas engaged in sexual contact with a second victim, "by force or coercion or while engaging in the medical treatment of the victim for the purpose of sexual arousal, gratification or stimulation," between September 2019 and February 2020, the release reads.

The AG's office notes investigators interviewed upwards of 30 former North Kingstown high students from the 1990s through 2020, as well as teachers, coaches and school staff.

The release indicates the statute of limitations for second-degree sexual assault in the state of Rhode Island is three years. No such limitation exists for second-degree child molestation.

In a statement to PEOPLE, North Kingstown School District Interim Superintendent Michael Waterman says his priority is student safety.

"We have taken actions to further support and protect our students, from important changes to existing policies as well the adoption of new district policies designed to ensure all of our students are safe within all of their educational environments," he said.

Waterman adds the district stands ready to assist authorities in the investigation into Thomas.

Timothy Conlon, the attorney representing the two victims, said in part, in a statement to PEOPLE: "This will have an an impact on the school administration in North Kingstown, and I hope throughout the region."

"We hope it will begin a culture change in the sports environment with kids and parents, and a change in culture with other teachers/coaches, so they don't ignore warning signs or look the other way when they encounter concerning behavior, regardless of the status of the particular coach or educator involved," Conlon said.

Attorney information for Thomas wasn't immediately available. It wasn't clear if he entered a plea to the charges against him.

Thomas is scheduled to appear in court Aug. 19.

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