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East Texans react to allegations against Elmo puppeteer

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TYLER (KYTX) -- The man behind a popular Sesame Street puppet--Elmo--is in hot water after being accused of having a sexual relationship with an under aged boy.

A 23-year-old man came forward back in June and claimed the relationship started when he was 16 and puppeteer Kevin Clash was 45. The incident has East Texas parents wondering about the values that go into a show that now spans several generations of children.

Sesame Street has spent more than four decades building up a trust with parents, convincing them that its fantasy world is a safe one for kids. In a lot of ways that world revolves around Elmo.

Clash is the man who brings Elmo to life.

"When I was nine years old, it was just a dream that I had. Wow I wish that I could work with the Muppets," he said in a documentary about his decades of playing the character.

Grandmother Kay Hepler worries that Clash is a bad influence on the rest of the team at Sesame Street.

"I don't think anyone with that kind of background needs to be around the filming of a children's episode," she said.

"It's an integrity issue most definitely," Allendale Crenshaw of Tyler said. "I care about the fact that that's going on behind the scenes but if they're unaware of that and they're unaware of the moral issue that's behind it, Sesame Street still is what it is at face value."

Crenshaw is more worried about the access Clash's job gives him to children in general.

The only thing Clash has said publicly is that the relationship did happen, but the accuser was actually 18 when it started. He said the relationship was "between two consenting adults and I am deeply saddened that he is trying to make it into something it was not."

The Sesame Workshop, which produces Sesame Street, said it investigated the allegations and concluded that the accuser is lying about having been 16 when the relationship started. Clash was disciplined for having poor judgment but he still has a job.

Clash has been the voice of Elmo since 1984. He's on a leave of absence at Sesame Street by his own choice.

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