WRAL Investigates

Durham students wait for bus near home shared by 11 sex offenders

Posted April 30, 2012 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated May 1, 2012 8:33 a.m. EDT

— North Carolina law says registered sex offenders cannot live within 1,000 feet of a school or child care center, but the law does not address school bus stops. The WRAL Investigates team found 11 sex offenders and other convicts living together in a house next to several school bus stops in Durham.

At least 12 children from five different schools are picked up at bus stops near the intersection of Carter and Rowena avenues between 6:30 and 8:30 a.m. each week day. On the day the WRAL Investigates team visited, some children waited with their parents, but others were alone.

The parents, many of whom don’t speak much English, said they didn’t know who was living at the house at 903 Carter Ave., and neither did most of the neighbors.

“Holy mackerel!” said neighbor Lucy Raymond, who immediately started spreading the word to parents. “We need to know. This is something we should’ve known before this happened.”

Of the 11 sex offenders living in the house, eight have records for crimes against children, according to the state sex offender registry:

WRAL News began investigating after a neighbor emailed a tip that a large number of sex offenders were living at the house. Records showed 10 registered sex offenders lived there. But, as of April 26, an 11th sex offender registered 903 Carter Ave. as his address.

Keith Byrd, who is not a sex offender, is the house manager. He said the group is living together as part of a non-profit Christian work program called God’s Property.

“We go out and do work around folks’ houses, mobile detail cars, stuff like that,” Byrd said. “We have a lot of guys who come and go because they can’t take it. Some guys make it, some don’t … If you’ve never been where these guys have been, you’re never going to understand.”

Chris Barnett runs the program, which is based out of his thrift shop in Durham.

“I help all people, lost and hurting people,” said Barnett, who is known as Pastor Chris. He has served time in jail as well for theft crimes years ago. “Our program is designed for six months to a year, you know, to try to help people get on their feet.”

Barnett says he moved the group to Carter Avenue four months ago after the lease on another home ran out. When asked if he thought it was wise for a ministry to put registered sex offenders so close to children, Barnett said, “No, no I don’t.”

“I was not aware of the children catching the bus there. I was just not aware,” he said.

Harold Wills, the owner of the house, said Barnett "was told the bus stop was here." Wills knew ex-convicts were living in the house, he said, but he didn’t know some of them were sex offenders.

“Being they were convicts, I figured I’d been there. I know what it’s like to hit rock bottom,” Wills said.

On Monday, City of Durham officials said Wills was in the process of evicting the men from the house. Barnett was looking for another place for the group to stay.

While there is nothing illegal about 11 registered sex offenders living together, Durham officials said they were investigating whether there was a housing code violation for too many unrelated people living at the house.

When the WRAL Investigates team told Durham Public Schools about the house on Carter Avenue, the school system began looking at alternative bus stops for the children. On Monday, spokesman Jeff Nash said they decided not to change the bus stop.

"We have had no parent complaints or requests to move it," Nash wrote in an email. "Of course, we may get a request tomorrow, and our Transportation team is very flexible and willing to consider a change as long as it doesn’t create a more dangerous situation (considering traffic patterns, speed limits, lighting, hills, curves, etc.)."

Robin McCoy, Durham schools’ chief communications officer, says finding bus stops is challenging, because children need to catch a bus close to their homes. The school system asks that parents always accompany their kids at a bus stop.

School systems across the state have differing policies on bus stops and whether they check to see if sex offenders are living nearby.

Read more WRAL Investigates stories or contact the WRAL Investigates team.