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Investigation launched into alleged prep school sex assaults

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CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The New Hampshire Attorney General's Office announced Thursday that it is launching a criminal investigation into allegations of sexual assault and misconduct at an elite prep school.

The investigation into St. Paul's School in Concord follows the school's release of a report in May detailing sexual assaults by teachers on their students, earlier information about student sexual conquest rituals and allegations of a similar ritual reported in June.

"Protection of children is a paramount priority for law enforcement. I am confident that an institution such as St. Paul's School will be fully cooperative with this investigation ...," Attorney General Gordon MacDonald said in a statement.

The investigation will focus on whether the school engaged in conduct that endangered the welfare of a child. Authorities said they also will look into whether the school violated a law that prohibits obstructing criminal investigations.

School officials said in a statement that they will continue to cooperate with the investigation.

"Our goal is and always will be the health, safety and well-being of our students," Rector Michael Hirschfeld said. "We will work tirelessly to meet that goal and strengthen the public's faith in St. Paul's School."

The spotlight first fell on St. Paul's when new graduate Owen Labrie, of Tunbridge, Vermont, was charged with sexually assaulting a freshman girl as part of the so-called "Senior Salute," in which boys competed to take the virginity of younger girls before getting their diplomas. Labrie was acquitted in 2015 of raping his 15-year-old classmate, but was convicted of misdemeanor sexual assault, child endangerment and using a computer to lure the girl for sex, a felony that requires him to register as a sex offender for life.

The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence said in a statement that it commends the attorney general's office for launching an investigation.

"While administrators at St. Paul's School recently disclosed a decades-long history of sexual assault and misconduct on campus, they seem to be unwilling or unable to comprehend the ongoing problem unfolding right in front of their eyes today," said the coalition's director of public affairs, Amanda Grady Sexton. "This investigation is an opportunity for the School to assess the reality of sexual misconduct on their campus and take the proper steps to craft model policies, establish a prevention plan, train faculty, and connect students to support services."

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