Special Report: Stopping Near Sex Offenders

Published: Feb. 18, 2014 at 3:33 AM CST|Updated: Feb. 25, 2014 at 12:59 AM CST
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Thousands of students in the Tri-State ride the bus to and from school each day. Many of those stops are alarmingly close to registered sex offenders.

14 News followed several bus routes throughout the Tri-State and found children, some as young as five-years-old, waiting for the bus just feet away from registered sex offenders.

Some parents are already vigilant, but for some parents, it was a wake up call.

There are 471 sex offenders in Vanderburgh County. By law, those offenders cannot live within 1,000 feet of a school. But there's no law about living near school bus stops. Some of those offenders even live steps from a stop.

"I've actually went on the internet and I know there are. That's why I'm out here standing because I don't want nobody to get him or snatch him up, or be waiting for him or see him get off the bus and me not be out here," said parent Kayla Gish.

Gish waits for her five-year-old son to get on and off the bus, but within a quarter mile of his bus stop, there are 14 registered sex offenders, including several child molesters.

"It doesn't really surprise me because I already know. I've done the research myself before we moved in, so it doesn't really surprise me, but that's why I'm out here standing because it does scare me," Gish said.

As we followed a bus route, we watched as child after child gets off the school bus with no one waiting for them. It's a familiar scene for Teresa Keeton, a 33-year veteran behind the wheel.

Keeton told 14 News that drivers know the routine and if something is out of place, they don't let students off.

"It does happen and we do take students back to school. It happens pretty regular," Keeton says. "Once in a while they'll say, 'I've got a van here' or somebody here that looks a little unusual and if we feel like it's necessary, we'll call the police, call the parents or do whatever we feel is necessary."

At one bus stop, four children got off the bus without an adult waiting for them. Within a quarter mile, there were seven offenders, including rapists, child molesters and persons charged with sexual misconduct with a minor

As the route continued, we noticed Anthony Hughes standing on the corner.

"We have a parent network out here," he told 14 News. "We all look out for these kids."

Since Hughes's home is closest to the bus stop, he keeps watch.

"We had child molesters growing up, we just didn't have a sex offender registry. It was there. It was happening. We just didn't have the internet and ways of knowing how often and how regular it was in occurrence. But now we do know, and knowing is half the battle. We have to sit out here and combat against what is inevitable almost because these guys are sick," Hughes said.

Even if you live in a neighborhood without registered offenders and think you're kids are safe to walk home from the bus stop, think again.

"Generally a sexual predator is very mobile. They like to cruise and look for easy targets. They will spend hours upon hours driving neighborhoods, roadways, looking for targets," said Chief Deputy Dave Wedding.

We told Hughes about the five sex offenders living less than 1,500 feet from his child's stop. He says he's more concerned about who he doesn't know about.

"It's a disgusting matter," he said. "It's our job as a community to protect these innocent kids. Everybody's not a repeat offender. There's always going to be that first time and that person is who you don't know about. That person is who you can't prepare yourself for because he hasn't struck yet."

Hughes's neighbor, Katrina Dillard, was also out in the below freezing temperatures waiting for her daughter. She says she's hyper-vigilant because her daughter was almost kidnapped.

"It makes me mad because if I would have got my hands on him, I would have hurt him, because that's my child. I don't want nobody to kidnap my child," she said. "Then I hear from the police, we found your daughter. Well where's she at? I don't want to go to no morgue and look at my daughter. No, I love my kids too much for that."

Rick Cameron, Chief Operations Officer at EVSC, says they do look at the registry when deciding bus stops and routes can be adjusted, but ultimately it's up to the parents to watch their children get on and off the bus.

"The offender database is currently not linked to our mapping software, so it's a manual process. We have to go in, find the addresses and then come back out and look at them. So we take them on a case by case matter at this point," Cameron said.

Officials say the easiest way to protect your children is to familiarize yourself with the sex offenders that do live in your area by simply typing in your street address online.

Wedding says sex offenders in our area don't have a stereotypical look to them, so teach your children that even people who look nice can be dangerous.

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