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'We didn't think nothing about it'

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

She realizes now, it was weird. It was wrong. But at the time, the mother of the 6-year-old didn't wonder why the 40-year-old man renting a room in her house owned a lot of children's videos.

"We didn't think nothing about it," the woman said.

She spoke evenly, the tones of frustration hidden beneath her voice, as she sat outside the Clayton County courtroom, where Rafael Rojas-Lopez Garcia is charged with molesting her son.

Garcia, a choir director at Jonesboro's St. Philip Benizi Catholic Church, also allegedly took pornographic pictures of the 6-year-old, and allegedly molested and photographed a 5-year-old, neighbor boy.

The woman, who is not being named to protect her son's identity, said she and everyone who trusted Garcia feels hurt and betrayed. On Tuesday, as she and five friends and family members waited for a probable cause hearing, she said they were still in shock. They are remembering things that should have caused questions, but didn't.

"All the movies in his room were children's movies ... In the afternoons, before my husband and I came home from work, my son would go into his room and watch movies," the mother said.

After one of those afternoon viewings, the woman asked her 6-year-old son why the door was locked, what they had been doing in there. The boy allegedly said Garcia was taking pictures of him, while he was naked, and "kissing" him.

The woman called the Clayton County police, Aug. 4, at about 4:30 p.m., and police found what they believed to be child pornography. The man's room, which he had apparently been renting for years, was equipped with multiple cameras, tripods, and web cams, according to police reports.

The boy, in interviews with Detective Joanne Southerland, claimed he had been molested by Garcia. Southerland's criminal arrest warrant applications reports that the boy, using an anatomically correct doll and euphemisms like "wee wee" and "kissing," accused Garcia of "engaging in acts of child molestation and felony sexual battery for the purposes of creating, producing, and manufacturing child pornographic images of the acts on five separate occasions."

Police also believe there may be other children who have been molested or photographed in lewd poses by Garcia, and they have located at least one additional victim, a 5-year-old neighbor boy. His parents allowed the boy to watch movies with Garcia, police allege, and used the 40-year-old man as a baby-sitter.

"We trusted him," the mother of the 6-year-old explained. She described him as as part of the family. "He was always very involved in the church and he was always performing music at weddings, baptisms, different church functions. He was always going to something at the church and we thought he was very Christian. So much for that."

Garcia directed the Spanish-language choir at the St. Philip Benizi Catholic Church. He also was a member of the church.

Gregory Hartmayer, a Franciscan priest at the church, told the congregation there was no evidence, and no claims, the man hurt any children at the church, according to the Georgia Bulletin, the newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta.

The priest told the congregation not to be alarmed by the news media, in a homily given at seven services after Garcia's arrest made the news, and he sought to distance the accused man from the Catholic church, according to the published report.

"The perpetrator of this heinous crime was an independent contractor who agreed to play the piano and direct the adult choir at the 12:30 Spanish Mass for a modest stipend. His relationship with the parish and its members was remote ... Unless he was privately contracted to play the piano at a wedding, his time on church property was about three hours per week," Hartmayer reportedly said. The priest described pedophilia as a "sickness" and a "pathology," telling the congregation he was "angry that a person who was associated with our parish, although in a very limited way, would betray the trust of a child."

The mothers of the 6-year-old and 5-year-old are still trying to comprehend what they believe was a betrayal. The mother of the 5-year-old, described the boy's condition as "not good." The mother of the 6-year-old said that since the alleged molestation, her son has become rebellious and violent. He is scheduled to go into therapy, she said, and she hopes he'll be "all right."

"Everybody is still very upset," the mother of the 6-year-old said. "This was right up under our noses, and we had no idea what was going on."

Garcia waived his probable cause hearing Tuesday, and the family of the alleged victims left, after waiting in the courthouse more than an hour. He is currently in the county jail without bond, and is scheduled for a bond hearing later this week.