A Manvel, N.D., man was arrested Friday and faces felony charges of sexually molesting four children at a church day care center in Grand Forks.

Timothy Tollefson, 31, remains in the Grand Forks County jail pending his initial appearance, probably Monday, on the four Class A felony counts of gross sexual imposition with a child under 15. Each count carries a top sentence of 20 years in prison if he's convicted.

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According to Grand Forks Police Detective Steve Conley, Tollefson admitted to rubbing the bare behinds of four girls, ages 3 to 4, while helping them sleep at nap time in a darkened room at Immanuel Christian Children's Center, attached to Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1710 Cherry St.

Tollefson began working there as a substitute staff member in 2009 and said about August 2012 he began touching girls there during nap time, using blankets to conceal his activity from other employees of the center, according to Conley's affidavit of probable cause.

Investigation

Conley said other employees at the center became concerned this fall about Tollefson's behavior, which led to interviews of children at the center by Tammy Knudson, of Grand Forks County Social Services, and interviews of Tollefson by Conley.

Conley said Tollefson admitted beginning the molestation in August 2012 and continued until last month, with the behavior progressing and that he "knew that what he was doing was wrong." Tollefson told Conley he took measures to elude detection from surveillance cameras in the center and from other employees.

But other employees told Knudson they saw him apparently touching children inappropriately, and watching girls as they used the bathroom. She and Conley interviewed seven center employees who shared their concerns.

One of the alleged victims told Knudson that "Tim pulls her pants down," Conley said in his affidavit.

Conley searched Tollefson's home on Thursday and said he found many images of children, including many in diapers, as well as sexually themed photos and videos of adults wearing diapers, on Tollefson's two laptop computers.

Conley said in his affidavit he thinks there is probable cause to believe Tollefson is guilty of possessing child pornography. No such charges were filed Friday.

Work history

According to his Facebook page, Tollefson says he attended Central High School in Grand Forks and UND before working at Immanuel Christian Children's Center.

According to a Friday news release from the Grand Forks County state's attorney's office, Tollefson also worked at Lil Point/Little Miracles East child care center in East Grand Forks in 2008 and 2009.

Anyone with information or concerns about this case should call police at (701) 787-8000, according to the news release.

Blake Hankey, a Grand Forks attorney, said his son attends the center and he learned of the charges late Friday afternoon.

"This is obviously very concerning and very alarming," Hankey said. "You kind of get a false sense of security that, in bringing your child to a day care center as opposed to a home day care, that all the proper safeguards are in place to make sure your kids are safe."

Hankey said he will talk to the Children's Center director and others before deciding if his son will keep attending it.

According to its website, the center is "a licensed preschool and child care center," that accepts children from birth up to 12 years and is open year-round. It says it has "certified staff," qualifies for federal nutrition programs and is a ministry of Immanuel Lutheran Church, which is part of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.

The Rev. Craig Fenske, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran, said parents of the center's children have been contacted about the accusations against Tollefson and the center remains open.

"We are taking what we believe are appropriate measures," he said.

Last week, Marie Remz, director of the center, declined comment until the investigation's details were announced by the county prosecutor's office.

Attempts to reach Remz late Friday afternoon were not successful.

Call Lee at (701) 780-1237, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1237 or send email to slee@gfherald.com.