TOPSHAM — Henry A. Eichman surrounded himself with hundreds of children.

Eichman, 57, helped found the Midcoast Youth Theater about 15 years ago, directing hundreds of children as they staged shows such as “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin,” and in 2008, was hired as a part-time employee at St. John’s Catholic School in Brunswick, where he worked with the drama program. Last September, he also started working with the after-school program at St. John’s.

Those many years of working with children, however, have come under greater scrutiny since Eichman was arrested last fall and charged with 16 counts of sexual abuse of children in Sagadahoc County, including unlawful sexual contact, unlawful sexual touching and “visual aggression against a child,” for allegedly videotaping or photographing children who were partially nude. He is due to appear in court next week on those charges.

Neighbors and those who worked with him in the youth theater group say they are shocked by the allegations and that they did not see him engaging in behavior that hinted at abuse, even as more allegations of child sexual abuse have come to light and criminal charges have continued to pile up.

In April, Eichman was indicted on two counts of sexual abuse in Cumberland County for acts that allegedly occurred the day before his arrest in Sagadahoc County. Although the indictment doesn’t specify where the alleged abuse took place beyond a location in Brunswick, the wording of the charges suggest it occurred either at St. John’s Catholic School or involved a student at the school, which offers classes for students from pre-K through 8th grade.

Just this month, two new charges were announced by a Cumberland County grand jury: unlawful sexual contact with a child under the age of 12 and unlawful sexual touching of a student.

Eichman has pleaded not guilty to the first 18 charges and is not believed to have entered a plea yet on the last two.

SLEEPOVERS AND POOL PARTIES

Court files in Sagadahoc County indicate there are six victims in those cases, ranging in age from 10 to 12. Eichman was reported to authorities by a Topsham parent whose child said Eichman was in bed with two girls during a sleepover. One of the girls at the sleepover said Eichman appeared to be “moving on top” of one of the girls in his bed during the night.

The files also include an accusation that he fondled a girl who said that she was told to sit on Eichman’s lap to use his computer.

Eichman is accused of secretly videotaping the children who attended pool parties at the apartment building he owns in Brunswick, where an aboveground pool still sits in a greenhouse-type structure in the backyard, which contains a small sandbox and is littered with items such as a stroller and child’s car seat.

According to court documents, one child told authorities that Eichman pretended to have put their clothes in the washing machine by accident and told the children to wear his T-shirts, without underwear, to sleep in.

Eichman, who is free on bond and living in Brunswick, would not comment on the case against him. His terms of release bar him from contact with most children, although he asked for and received an exemption to allow him to see his grandchildren.

The allegations have rocked the Midcoast Youth Theater, whose board members consulted each other after Eichman’s arrest in September to make sure that their procedures – including at least two adults present at theater practices and other events – were followed, said Julie Meyer, who chairs the youth theater’s board.

A meeting for parents also was held shortly after Eichman’s arrest. At the meeting, which was closed to the public, board members told parents about Eichman’s arrest and their belief that he was not using the theater group as a way to meet the children he allegedly abused. So far, no other parents of theater children have come forward publicly to accuse Eichman of abuse.

Other board members who were contacted would not comment. Meyer said she believes the theater group did all it could to protect the children who performed in plays.

THEATER GROUP NOT ‘HIS PLAYPEN’

Some of the children that Eichman is accused of sexually abusing were involved in the theater, but Meyer said he first came into contact with those children through their parents, not through the theater. He never issued invitations to his sleepovers or to backyard pool parties through the theater group, she said.

Police have not interviewed any theater officials or the parents of children who met Eichman through the theater group, Meyer said. She said that makes her believe that police and prosecutors do not believe Eichman used his position at the theater to meet the alleged victims.

“We’re certainly horrified by what’s gone on,” Meyer said. “But this wasn’t his playpen.”

Topsham Police Detective Mark LaFountain, who arrested Eichman, and Sagadahoc County District Attorney Jonathan Liberman, who will prosecute the case, refused to discuss Eichman when contacted by the Portland Press Herald.

Officials at the Midcoast Presbyterian Church, where the theater group practiced, also said they never saw any signs of inappropriate behavior while Eichman and the children were in their building. The officials said multiple adults were on site during practices. Meyer said the theater group had longstanding rules that adults involved in the productions were not allowed to be alone with children, and the group also used only school employees in production roles, knowing they would be subject to background checks by their employers.

Church officials also said they weren’t interviewed by police or the district attorney’s office about Eichman.

Neither Eichman’s ex-wife nor his grown children responded to attempts to contact them. He is scheduled to appear in court in Sagadahoc County on July 27.

As an employee at St. John’s Catholic School, Eichman underwent regular background checks, said Dave Guthro, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.

Eichman, who did not have a prior criminal record in Maine, passed a background check by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services just two months before he was arrested, Guthro said. He also passed his most recent national background check in 2013, Guthro said.

Other school officials refused to discuss Eichman, including the principal, who said she started her job months after Eichman was arrested.

Guthro said Eichman worked in the school’s drama department and, about a week before his arrest, began working with children in the after-school program. Guthro wouldn’t discuss Eichman beyond that, and refused to say whether Eichman had volunteered to work in the after-school program or was asked to work there.

NEIGHBORS SAW NO MISCONDUCT

NancyMae Madarasz, 21, who participated in the youth theater as a child and rented an apartment in the Topsham building owned by Eichman, said she never saw him behave inappropriately with the children at his sleepovers. Eichman has since moved to a friend’s house in Brunswick, according to court documents.

Madarasz said she has been in theater productions since she was in third grade, starting with “A Christmas Carol,” as were her older brother and sister.

“He was a great guy, a really fair director,” Madarasz said of Eichman.

Madarasz said she “aged out” of the theater about two years ago, and by then, Eichman was her landlord. She said he was a fair landlord.

Isaac Tracy, 21, Madarasz’s boyfriend, said he was at her apartment on nights when Eichman hosted some of the sleepovers at which the sexual abuse allegedly occurred. Tracy said he never saw any signs that something inappropriate was going on.

Tracy said the children seemed happy at Eichman’s gatherings. They talked about their roles in plays and played in the pool, he said, and he was never aware of anything untoward.

When asked if he saw anything that would indicate that Eichman might have been abusing the girls, Tracy said he saw nothing.

“I was here a lot,” he said, “and when I heard the accounts (of abuse), I said, ‘What?’ ”

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]