Eight years after she was abused as a young teen, an Omaha native got a measure of justice Friday.
Now in her early 20s, the college student spoke to police about the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of a former assistant basketball coach at Omaha Marian High School.
Friday, that coach and former star player, Andrea Lightfoot, pleaded no contest to first-degree sexual assault. Lightfoot assaulted the girl during the 2012-13 season, when she was 27 and the girl was a 14- and 15-year-old freshman basketball player. She will be sentenced in April. The now-34-year-old, who has a baby and goes by the married name Andrea Knecht, faces up to 50 years in prison and at least 25 years of registering as a sex offender.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said justice shouldn’t have taken this long. He said he is pushing state senators to remove the statute of limitations on charging officials with failure to report child abuse. The current 18-month statute of limitations precluded law enforcement from pursuing a failure to report charge in this case.
Under state law, all adults — and specifically teachers and school administrators — are required to report suspicions that a child is being abused.
Marian school officials fired Lightfoot after the girl’s parents went to the school to report that Lightfoot had been contacting their daughter at all hours of the night and that the two had shared several emails and messages.
Some of the messages were graphic, Kleine said, but school officials didn’t ask to see the exchanges.
“That’s why the mandatory-reporting law is worded the way that it is,” Kleine said. “You have a duty to let the police know so they, the professionals, can investigate. If that would have happened, this would have been uncovered early on.”
After the young woman went public in 2019, Omaha police detectives were able to obtain several old email exchanges she had with Lightfoot. Lightfoot and the girl had talked about the Katy Perry song “I Kissed a Girl.” Lightfoot asked the girl if she had ever done that. She said she hadn’t.
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The exchanges progressed until Lightfoot gained the girl’s trust and groomed her into sexual activity, prosecutor Molly Keane said. The abuse culminated with Lightfoot penetrating her digitally and orally while the two were in her car at Westroads Mall and at the girl’s home, Keane said.
The now-21-year-old woman told police that Lightfoot took a special interest in her and befriended her.
Lightfoot played basketball collegiately for a brief time at Nebraska before transferring to Idaho State University.
The survivor of the sexual assault is now in college. Last year, she tweeted at Marian High School officials who were promoting the all-girls private school on Twitter. “Marian High School covered up the fact that I was sexually assaulted,” the woman wrote. “Who took a stand for me?”
That prompted current Marian High School President Mary Higgins to dig into personnel files and report the matter to authorities. It also prompted questions as to why Marian officials didn’t report the matter in 2013.
A former Marian official, Susan Toohey, told The World-Herald she terminated Lightfoot immediately for improperly communicating with the student — a resolution that she said was acceptable at the time to the girl’s parents. However, Toohey said, she didn’t report the relationship to authorities because no one suggested it was sexual in nature.
Kleine praised the young woman for her resilience.
“It’s never too late to report,” he said. “I want to recognize the courage it took for her to come forward. She proved that it doesn’t matter when it is reported. If we can get corroboration that proves someone guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, then we’re going to file it.”