ABILENE, Texas — An Abilene man with a history of working with kids has been arrested on child sex crime and child porn charges.
Benjamin Russell Roberts, 24, is charged with indecency with a child and possession of child pornography. His bond was set at $150,000 on each charge.
Roberts was arrested Wednesday after police served a warrant in a north Abilene home. Roberts “admitted to and was found to be in possession of child pornography,” according to the arrest report.
Abilene police said they had info that an unknown person downloaded child pornography from July 19 through Sept. 26, 2017. The investigation began on Feb 27.
On Wednesday, the cyber crimes division was able to identify Roberts as the person who was downloading child porn at his residence. Police said he lived at a community outreach home.
Police seized several devices -- a Dell laptop, two iPhone 4s, a Samsung Galaxy, Sony USB -- which contained child pornography. They also found "one pair of children's underwear," said Sgt. Lynn Beard. No children lived at the home.
Beard said Roberts admitted "to inappropriately touching a child under 12 years old last year."
According to police, Roberts has worked at least three places where he was in contact with children, including the Wylie Baptist Church's Child Development Center, Southern Hills Church of Christ daycare and the Beltway Park Church Youth Program.
Beard said each of the entities was "completely shocked" when they told them. He said one of them described Roberts as one of their best teachers.
"That's pretty normal. Child offenders tend to be pretty smooth," Beard said.
Roberts had no criminal record, according to police. So, he would have passed any background checks.
Police are working to determine when he worked at each facility, whether there are other locations they don't know about and if there are other victims.
"There is an extremely high likelihood that there are other victims that we don't know about right now.," Beard said.
Police are encouraging parents of children who attend or have attended Wylie Baptists CDC, Southern Hills or Beltway Park to talk to their kids. If they disclose abuse, Beard said you should call Abilene police immediately at 325-673-8331.
Beard cautions parents to remain calm.
"How you react if your child discloses abuse is critical to the long term recovery potential of your child.," Beard said.
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KTXS reached out to the director of Wylie Baptist Church's Child Development Center about his employment status. Thursday afternoon, the church released the following statement,
Wylie Baptist Church Child Development Center was informed earlier today that official charges had been made regarding Benjamin Russel Roberts, who was terminated upon notification of arrest. The information we have at this time is that the case involves activity in his home and is not associated with our facility.
We are cooperating fully with the Abilene Police Department in this ongoing investigation and have notified Child Care Licensing as we work through this case with them and APD. Regular background checks and observations with all staff and Mr. Roberts have not indicated any activity that would raise concern.
Our primary concerns are for the safety and wellbeing of the children in our care, keeping parents informed, and being in prayer for all involved as we process this information. Should you have a concern regarding your child, the APD has asked that you call the non-emergency line immediately to file a report at 325-673-8331 so it can be handled accordingly.
Southern Hills Church of Christ statement
"Late Wednesday afternoon, the Abilene Police Department informed our church office that Ben Roberts, a former employee of Southern Hills children’s ministry, was in police custody and under investigation for indecency with a child and possession of child pornography.
Southern Hills has a vigorous background check system in place that all employees and volunteers seeking to work in our children's ministries must go through before being allowed to participate in those ministries. Ben went through that system, and his report showed no areas of concern. As an extra safeguard, Southern Hills strictly prohibits any employee or volunteer from ever being alone with a child or children. Our children are blessings from God, and their safety and well'being are our highest priorities."
Beltway Park Church statement
This morning Beltway Park Church was informed by the Abilene Police Department that Benjamin Roberts, a former employee of Beltway Park Kid’s Club After School Ministry from Sept 3, 2014 through May 28, 2015, was arrested on child pornography and indecency with a child charges. He served in our After School Ministry but was not involved in any other children or youth ministry at our church.
To do all we can to ensure the safety and well-being of our children on a daily basis, all employees must go through a criminal background check. This was done and returned to us clear. We also maintain a strict policy in all areas of youth and children’s ministry, including our after-school program, that no adult may be alone with a student or child at any time. We work to strictly enforce this policy at all times.
We are deeply saddened by these events, and our prayers are with all who may be involved.
According to his Facebook page, Roberts also worked at Camp of the Hills. According to an on-line article in July 2014 announing his internship, Fortress Youth Development Center -- which works with at-risk kids, said Roberts worked at Camp of the Hills for five summers.
Fortress Youth Development Center statement
Fortress Youth Development Center was shocked to learn of Ben Roberts’ arrest. Providing a safe haven for children – physically and emotionally – is at the heart of our mission. Fortress Youth Development Center has a rigorous background check program, which all staff, interns, and volunteers are required to undergo. While interning and volunteering with us, Ben Roberts went through this process, and passed his background checks. Our investigation into this matter is ongoing, and we will assist law enforcement in any way necessary.
Roberts studied Child and Family Services at Abilene Christian University. But, ACU said he did not graduate from there.