Updates at the bottom of the story.
Kevin Clash, the voice actor behind Sesame Street's beloved character Elmo, has taken a leave of absence after being accused of having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy.
Earlier this summer, the accuser, then a 23-year-old man, reached out to Sesame Workshop alleging Clash had a relationship with him when he was still a minor.
After the accuser came forward, Sesame Workshop took immediate action. The company "conducted a thorough investigation and found the allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated. Although this was a personal relationship unrelated to the workplace, [their] investigation did reveal that Kevin exercised poor judgment and violated company policy regarding internet usage and he was disciplined."
Clash, who would have been 45 years old at the time, acknowledged the relationship. However, he "insists it only took place AFTER the accuser was an adult."
"I had a relationship with [the accuser]. It was between two consenting adults and I am deeply saddened that he is trying to make it into something it was not," Clash told TMZ.
Meanwhile, the accuser has hired the same firm that represented one of the victims in the Jerry Sandusky rape case.
Despite Clash's absence, the company has no plans to remove the character from the show. According to an official statement, Elmo "will continue to be an integral part of Sesame Street."
[Update 2:20 p.m. 11/12] According to CNN, Clash issued the following statement:
"I am a gay man. I have never been ashamed of this or tried to hide it, but felt it was a personal and private matter. I had a relationship with the accuser. It was between two consenting adults and I am deeply saddened that he is trying to characterize it as something other than what it was. I am taking a break from Sesame Workshop to deal with this false and defamatory allegation."
[Update 9:53 a.m. 11/13] According to TMZ, Clash sent several emails to the accuser -- after he turned 18:
"I'm sorry that I keep talking about sex with you, its driving me insane."
"I want you to know that I love you and I will never hurt you."
Clash also talks about protecting the accuser and even flying him out to NYC. These are likely the emails Sesame Workshop alluded to in the initial statement.