Following the arrests of four members of the Bellar family and Athens County Sheriff Sgt. Jimmy Childs in recent weeks, local schools and county services are navigating their connections to 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 previously missing teenager who recently spoke up about accusations that they had been abusing her for years.
Childs was also arrested last Friday and was charged with obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence. Prosecutors allege he deleted phone evidence related to the Bellar investigation.
Last week, WOUB reported on the questions surrounding a possible “systematic failure,” quoting Athens Prosecutor Keller Blackburn. Multiple different services have connections to the Bellar family or Childs, who was the point-man for county school resource officer work and also D.A.R.E. programs at the schools.
Robert and Deborah Bellar were involved heavily in multiple EMS services, including volunteer firefighting as well as serving as parent volunteers for the Athens County Sheriff’s Explorers program.
Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn said he was in touch with many of these government services and was working with them as the case develops. He added all agencies were cooperative in the investigations.
“Sadly there are things that need to be better — and we’re going to make those better — and everyone is in a good place to do that,” Blackburn said.
Lee Bolen, chief of the Albany Area Volunteer Fire Department, also said the department was shocked by the allegations against the Bellars. He said 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 never saw any indications the Bellars were abusive towards their children, but did add that Robert appeared very religious.
Besides complying with prosecutors and taking his own actions, Bolen said he now worries that the allegations against the Bellars will reflect poorly on dozens of people he said are completely removed from everything related to their arrests.
“I don’t want the accusations brought against two of our members to reflect on the rest of us,” Bolen said.
He added he believes the Albany Area Fire Department is filled with people who work to serve the community out of the goodness of their heart.
“Our members go through hours of training — countless hours on runs, and they do it for free,” Bolen said. “All the good we do as a fire department throughout the year, a bad light can be put upon us with this.”
The Athens County Children’s Services (ACCS) have been the subject of “untrue” public allegations about the service since the Bellars were arrested, spokesperson Robin Webb said.
She, like many others, said the agency was shocked to hear about the allegations against Childs, who has worked with the agency in the past in an outreach capacity.
The Athens Messenger initially reached out to Webb to inquire if someone had deleted a video posted to Facebook in April of Childs expressing support for Kids Fest, a community event organized by ACCS. The video appeared under a Google search, but the link had been deleted.
Webb said she had no knowledge of what happened to the post, and would inquire. Moments after the call ended, she phoned back and stated she had in fact deleted the post in order to protect the image of the ACCS.
“I’m the one that deleted that,” Webb said. “I just wanted to take action to protect our agency against further untrue allegations as this (Bellar and Childs) investigation develops.”
Multiple sexual abuse reports were filed with Athens County Children Services between February 2017 and April 2020, with one report, according to the prosecutor’s office, providing text messages of family members discussing brothers sexually abusing a younger sibling. The Athens Messenger is unable to obtain child services reports since they aren’t public record, as minors were involved.
In a previous statement, Webb declined to comment, but said the ACCS takes investigations “seriously.”
However, to 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 investigation into Childs pans out.
Before being placed on paid administrative leave prior to his arrest, Childs was the primary point-of-contact for much of the schools’ resource officer needs, even serving in a musical capacity as “DJ Enforcer” for school functions.
Childs has also been the School Resource Officer Association representative for Southeastern Ohio since 2002, according to his Linkedin.
Sheriff Rodney Smith said there were currently no plans to significantly alter the current structure of the agreement the Athens County Sheriff’s Department has with county schools to make deputies available for schools’ needs.
“We’ll let the judicial system take its course and we’ll make decisions as this thing progresses,” Smith said.
Smith said it “buys some time” that schools will or already have let out for the summer, giving the office an opportunity to examine the situation.
Federal Hocking Superintendent David Hanning said the school district wanted a continued relationship with the Athens County Sheriff’s Department.
“We’re interested in being served by the sheriff’s department, we have relationships with several of the deputies who were willing to work with them however it shakes out,” Hanning said.
Federal Hocking Schools are mentioned in the indictments against Robert and Deborah Bellar, in connection with Childs.
Serah Bellar briefly attended Federal Hocking. After being placed in the foster system and the school district, the indictments state, Childs asked her in school where she was living, in his capacity as resource officer. When asked again after Childs claimed he had forgotten, Serah declined to answer, fearful that he would relay her address to the other Bellar family members.
Serah Bellar cited fear of Childs as a reason for running away, The Messenger previously reported.
Childs has previously stated to The Athens Messenger that he did not remember this interaction.
Hanning said he was not aware of this alleged interaction until he read about it following the arrests.
“I don’t know anything about that specifically — Deputy Childs, in his capacity as a deputy, was in the school a lot and talked with different students,” Hanning said. “That particular incident, when I read it in the paper — that was the first I was aware.”
Athens City School District Superintendent Tom Gibbs said he would reserve judgment about Childs until “things play out.”
“To be quite honest, I don’t know enough about the case or situation to make a judgment at this point in time,” Gibbs said.
However, he said the school had a strong relationship with ACSO and the district had never received any major complaints regarding Childs’ service in the district.
Blackburn said generally, those services impacted by the Bellar arrests are “wanting things to be better.”
Blackburn said while he is focused on prosecuting those who have committed crimes, he also wants to help services improve and avoid any possible errors in the future.
“If someone did something wrong, we’d hold them accountable,” Blackburn said. “If someone could have done their job better, we’ll help them do their job better — and for the most part it’s people who want to be better.”
Childs pretrial hearing date is June 1.