Sex Offenders In School Zones: Is Your Child Safe?

Dangerous, stunning, a shame. Those are just some of the words parents are using to describe a situation near their schools in Jackson County. It's not because of conditions inside the school. Instead, it's the convicted sex offenders who call the area "home", just feet away from your child's school. Before the last bell rings at your local school, guess who lives next door.

"He could be on campus, nobody knows it. You make my heart beat girl. I think that is terrible," parent Dianna Dees said.

"That's not right, that's dangerous. There's too many kids around here for a man to be running around on the loose like this," parent Shakeela Stanton said.

But they are. Dozens of sex offenders, living just steps away from schools, within eyesight of what's supposed to be one of the safest places for kids. The number of sex offenders in Jackson County alone just might surprise you.

"157 right now, there are several in jail. There are 2 or 3 that are missing right now, I actually don't know where they are," Jackson County Sheriff's Department Capt. Mick Sears said.

More than 20 of those offenders are living within 1,500 feet of a school. Last year state lawmakers hoped to create a safe school zone, banning sex offenders from living within 1,500 feet of a school or daycare. Lawmakers also created a loophole in that law, allowing sex offenders who already lived near a school, or those who were currently in jail, to keep their permanent residences. But that was supposed to be the extent of the exceptions.

"Other than that, you can't just move within 1500 feet of any of those facilities," Sears says.

That wasn't the case with convicted child molester Robert Olier. On April 17th, he moved steps away from Eastlawn Elementary. Kids walk by his home on their way to and from school everyday. He can even see the school from his front yard, through these bushes. We confronted Mr. Olier at home.

"Mr. Olier? Keli Rabon with WLOX. I understand you're a convicted sex offender."

Robert Olier was convicted of child molesting in California in 1997. When we asked how he got so close to this Pascagoula school, he got a little camera shy.

"Did you know you're living too close to a school?" Rabon asks Olier in his front yard.

"They let me live here before and I'm living here," Olier says.

"Who let you live here? Excuse me sir, who let you live here? Who let you live here? Did you know you're breaking the law?" Rabon asks Olier.

"If they're here and not registered, I cut them a warrant. I don't even give them a chance," Sears says.

Olier is registered. But even though he's feet from the school, he can stay. Why? He lived here before Katrina, and although he moved miles away when his house was damaged, now he's back home. Registering this address violates that new law. But Capt. Sears says his department's making a special exception for Olier stay.

"Is your department enforcing that law?" Rabon asked Capt. Sears.

"As best as we can. I'm the only person that works it," Sears said.

Pascagoula School District Superintendent Wayne Rodolfich says when it comes to kids and his schools, there should be no exception.

"I don't think a thousand miles is far enough for a person who would hurt a child," Rodolfich says.

A few miles away on Skip Avenue, you can find convicted child molester Hardy Parker Jr.

He has a clear view of Central Elementary. County records show in March, he listed this address on Testament Avenue, one that's a few hundred feet too close to a school. We found him in the morning, afternoon, and night here, in a condemned home, even closer to Central Elem.

For weeks, we tracked Parker sitting on the porch, watching the school buses go by.

I shared that information with Capt. Sears. Turns out, the Sheriff's department didn't know where Parker was until we told them. Deputies arrested Parker just hours before our interview with Capt. Sears.

"I've been watching several sex offenders in Jackson County who are breaking that law, and they haven't been picked up. Why?" Rabon asked.

"Like I said, I'm the only person. We don't have a tracking map or no secret formula. If the state doesn't catch it, and let me know, and I don't catch it, which I may not, I try to do my best, some of them slip by," Capt. Sears said.

Law enforcement says that sex offenders tend to move around quite frequently, which makes them even more difficult to track. Current registration records show sex offenders lurking around more than 20 schools in Jackson County. Concerned parents say there's no excuse for this law to go un-enforced.

"I think something needs to be done about that. He shouldn't be here, he shouldn't be around the corner. You mean that corner right there?

"Yes, that corner," Rabon said.

"Oh no, no, no," parent Dianna Dees says, shaking her head.

"The stuff people get away with, right?" parent Gayla Daniels said.

"But when it comes to your kids, is that okay?" Rabon asked.

"No, no, no. I think it's a shame," Daniels says.

If you thought the Attorney General could help Jackson County enforce this law, think again. The AG's office tells me that they can't comment on local matters, like a sex offender breaking the school zone law. Sex Offenders living near schools isn't just isolated to Jackson County. It's a problem across South Mississippi.