Following the arrest of four members of the Bellar family and the Athens County Sheriff, Sgt. Jimmy Childs in recent weeks, local schools and county departments are connecting with those involved.
Four members of the Bellar family, Robert, Deborah, Jonathan and Josiah Bellar, were arrested earlier this month on a litany of sexual and physical abuse charges stemming from allegations made by Serah Bellar, a missing teenager who recently spoke about the accusations that they had been abusing her for years.
Childs was also arrested last Friday and charged with obstructing justice and tampering with evidence. Prosecutors allege he deleted telephone evidence related to the Bellar investigation.
Last week, WOUB reported on issues surrounding a possible “systematic failure”, citing Athens prosecutor Keller Blackburn. Several different departments have ties to the Bellar or Childs family, who were the focal point for the work of the county school resource officers and also the DARE programs in schools.
Robert and Deborah Bellar have been heavily involved in several EMS services, including arson firefighting, as well as parent volunteers for the Athens County Sheriff’s Explorers Program.
Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn said he was in contact with many of these government departments and worked with them as the case developed. He added that all the agencies were cooperative in the investigations.
“Unfortunately, there are things that need to be improved – and we are going to improve them – and everyone is in a good position to do it,” said Blackburn.
Lee Bolen, chief of the Albany-area Volunteer Fire Department, also said the service was shocked by the allegations against the Bellars. He said that once he heard about the indictments, he placed them on inactive status (Robert was a volunteer and Deborah served in an auxiliary function).
Bolen said Robert was an “active” member of the fire department. He said he had never seen any indication that the Bellars were abusive of their children, but added that Robert seemed very religious.
In addition to complying with prosecutors and taking his own action, Bolen said he now worries the allegations against the Bellars will reflect poorly on dozens of people who he says are completely removed from anything to do with their arrests.
“I don’t want the charges against two of our members being reflected on the rest of us,” Bolen said.
He added that he believes the Albany area fire department is filled with people who are working to serve the community out of the kindness of heart.
“Our members go through hours of training – countless hours on races, and they do it for free,” Bolen said. “All the good we do as a fire department all year round, bad light can be thrown at us with that.”
Athens County Children’s Services (ACCS) has been the subject of “false” public claims about the service since the Bellars’ arrest, spokesman Robin Webb said.
She, like many others, said the agency was shocked to hear about the allegations against Childs, who worked with the agency in the past for outreach purposes.
The Athens messenger initially contacted Webb to inquire if anyone had removed a video posted to Facebook in April of Childs expressing support for Kids Fest, a community event hosted by ACCS. The video appeared under a Google search, but the link had been removed.
Webb said she had no knowledge of what happened to the station and would inquire about it. Moments after the call ended, she called back and said she actually deleted the message in order to protect the ACCS image.
“I was the one who deleted this,” Webb said. “I just wanted to take action to protect our agency from further false allegations as this investigation (Bellar and Childs) unfolds.”
Multiple reports of sexual abuse were filed with Athens County Children’s Services between February 2017 and April 2020, with one report, according to the prosecutor’s office, providing text messages from family members discussing brothers sexually assaulting a younger brother. The Athens messenger is unable to obtain the Children’s Services reports as they are not public as minors were involved.
In a previous statement, Webb declined to comment, but said ACCS takes the investigations “seriously”.
However, at WOUB, Webb noted that law enforcement is responsible for prosecuting cases, not ACCS.
Schools and the Athens County Sheriff’s Office are watching and waiting to see how the Childs investigation unfolds.
Prior to being put on paid administrative leave prior to his arrest, Childs was the primary point of contact for much of the needs of school resource officers, even serving in a musical capacity as “DJ Enforcer” for school functions.
Childs has also been the School Resource Officer Association’s representative for Southeast Ohio since 2002, according to his Linkedin.
Sheriff Rodney Smith said there are currently no plans to significantly change the current structure of the agreement that the Athens County Sheriff’s Department has made with county schools to put deputies to the disposition of the needs of the schools.
“We will let the legal system take its course and we will make decisions as this case progresses,” Smith said.
Smith said this “saves time” that schools will or have already let out for the summer, giving the office an opportunity to review the situation.
Hocking Federal Superintendent David Hanning said the school district wanted an ongoing relationship with the Athens County Sheriff’s Department.
“We are interested in being served by the Sheriff’s Department, we have relationships with several of the MPs who were willing to work with them no matter the situation,” Hanning said.
Hocking’s federal schools are mentioned in the indictments against Robert and Deborah Bellar, relating to Childs.
Serah Bellar briefly attended Federal Hocking. After being placed in the reception system and the school district, according to the indictments, Childs asked her to the school where she lived, in her capacity as resource manager. When asked again after Childs claimed he forgot, Serah refused to answer, fearing he would pass his address on to other members of the Bellar family.
Serah Bellar cited fear of Childs as the reason for his flight, The Messenger reported previously.
Childs has previously told The Athens Messenger that he doesn’t remember this interaction.
Hanning said he was not aware of this alleged interaction until he learned of it after the arrests.
“I don’t know anything about that in particular – Assistant Childs, in his capacity as an assistant, was in school a lot and talked to different students,” Hanning said. “This particular incident, when I read it in the newspaper, was the first that I was aware of.”
Athens City School District Superintendent Tom Gibbs said he would reserve judgment on Childs until “things work out.”
“To be completely honest, I don’t know the case or the situation well enough to pass judgment at this point,” Gibbs said.
However, he said the school has a strong relationship with ACSO and the district has never received any major complaints about Childs’ service in the district.
Blackburn said in general, departments affected by Bellar’s arrests “want things to improve.”
Blackburn said that while he is focused on prosecuting those who have committed crimes, he also wants to help services improve and avoid possible mistakes in the future.
“If someone did something wrong, we held them accountable,” Blackburn said. “If someone could have done their job better, we’ll help them do their job better – and most of them are people who want to be better.”
The date for the child’s preliminary hearing is June 1.