HOLMES COUNTY, Ohio - The case was first brought to the attention of the East Holmes School District in February when a middle school student saw others sharing photos of nude students on a school bus.
Interim Superintendent James Ritchie tells Fox 8 News that at the time he had no idea what the scope of the investigation would be.
Holmes County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Richard Haun says investigators began interviewing students and parents. They confiscated cell phones and other devices and found over 100 images of female students in various states of nudity.
"It's definitely north of seventy images. One device had 97 images, but some of them were either repeated or at least very similar images of say the same subject," said Assistant Holmes County Prosecutor Sean Warner.
"In this particular case we have female individuals taking pictures of themselves, sharing those pictures with acquaintances, things of that nature," said Haun.
Haun says the photos were shared discreetly on an app called 'Snapchat' where the expectation is that they would vanish within seconds.
But Haun says students would create screen grabs of the photos, store them on Dropbox and then allow other students access to them.
In at least one case there is an accusation that the access to the images was sold.
When the investigation was completed prosecutors filed charges against 20 students or former students including disseminating matter harmful to juveniles, a misdemeanor, and illegal use of a minor in nudity oriented material, a felony, in Holmes County Juvenile Court.
The teenagers who are charged include six females ages 14-16, seven adult females ages 18-20, and seven juvenile males, ages 15-16.
The juvenile males face three to 20 counts each.
Warner says prosecutors made the decision to file the charges in juvenile court because all of the teenagers involved were juveniles when the incidents occurred and because juvenile court focuses less on punishment and more on rehabilitation, hoping that the teens will learn a lesson from their activity.
But investigators also realize that 'sexting' is not unique to Holmes County and urge parents everywhere to be actively engaged with their children, frequently monitoring their activity on their cell phones and other devices and online.