Ky. Teacher Who Confessed to Sexually Abusing Multiple Minors at Same Time Could Get Life in Prison

Ellen Phillips, 38, pleaded guilty to attempting to lure a minor online for sexual activity

<p>Garrard County Sheriff

Garrard County Sheriff's Department

Ellen Phillips

• Ellen Phillips admitted she engaged in sexual activity with several teenage boys at the same time

• She told a judge she would use social media to contact her victims

• The 38-year-old confessed to "repeatedly" attempting to lure one child with the promise of sex and alcohol

A former teacher’s aide in Danville, Ky., pleaded guilty last week in federal court to attempted online enticement of a minor to engage in sexual conduct, according to authorities.

Ellen Phillips, who previously went by Ellen Shell, admitted to authorities that in December 2022, she messaged a 15-year-old boy on Facebook to engage in sexual activity, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kentucky said in a statement on Friday.

Phillips said she “repeatedly attempted” to convince the child to sneak out of his home for the purpose of sexual activity, despite the child’s reluctance, the statement said.

Phillips continued to try and convince him, at one point trying to lure him out with the promise of alcohol and oral sex, while also sharing tips on excuses he could give his mother to leave the house, according to the statement. 

It wasn’t clear if she had sexual contact with that particular boy. However, she said in her plea agreement that she would have sexual contact with “multiple minors at the same time,” per the Attorney’s Office.

Information on the total number of victims, potential further charges or the nature of her arrest — such as how authorities were tipped off about her crimes — was not detailed in the statement. A spokesperson for the office did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for further clarification.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office carried out this operation as part of Project Safe Childhood, a Justice Department initiative that addresses child sex abuse, including cases where a minor is targeted online.

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Phillips used social media platforms such as Facebook and Snapchat to communicate with her victims, authorities said.

In a statement to PEOPLE, Snapchat said such conduct is "reprehensible" and "has no place" on the platform.

“Snapchat was designed to help young people talk to their friends they know in real life, and we have robust measures in place to make it difficult for teens to be discovered and contacted by strangers," a spokesperson said in part of the statement.

"If we are made aware of any content exploiting minors – whether through our proactive detection technology or confidential in-app reporting tools – we immediately remove it, lock the violating account and report it to authorities," the spokesperson said.

In 2022, the platform launched Snapchat’s Family Center, which allows parents to monitor who teens are talking to on Snapchat and set Content Controls.

When contacted by PEOPLE, Facebook noted it has tools to identify adults exhibiting potentially suspicious behavior and that it's able to prevent them from being able to find, follow or interact with teen accounts.

The platform said it sends safety notices to teens in contact with potentially suspicious adults, encouraging them to report and block them.

In 2023, Facebook also launched parental supervision on Messenger, which allows parents to monitor their teen's Messenger contacts list.

When she is sentenced in April, Phillips faces anywhere from 10 years to life in prison.

If you suspect child abuse, call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453, or go to All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual abuse, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.

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