INDEPENDENCE, Missouri - A Missouri law that prevents registered sex offenders from living near schools and child-care centers does not include church day cares. Despite an effort to change the law, the "loophole" is allowing hundreds of offenders to live within plain sight of locations where children gather every day, an NBC Action News investigation has found.
Horrific assault shines light on issue
On Feb. 4, Jackson County prosecutors charged registered sex offender Randy W. Lande with multiple felony counts of rape, forcible sodomy, and kidnapping.
Graphic court documents detailed a brutal attack, accusing Lande of tormenting an 8-year-old girl who was spending the night at an Independence home after attending a birthday party. Lande had registered the address in the 400 block of W Farmer Street as his residence with law enforcement.
In 2009, Lande had already pleaded guilty to sodomy and his victim in that case was also a minor. At the time of the alleged assault in Independence, Lande was in the midst of a five-year probation.
Neighbors and church leaders react
Neighbors had expressed their concerns to police and elected leaders as soon as Lande moved into the neighborhood in 2010.
They believed Lande should not be allowed to live so close to First Baptist Church, 500 West Truman Road, because of its day care service provided to about 85 kids per day.
"I was mortified. I was sick to my stomach," said Angela Whitebread, whose three-year-old daughter Ameerah attends daycare at First Baptist.
According to Missouri law, any child sex offender cannot live within 1,000 feet of a public school or child-care facility. However, after the attack, neighbors learned that the law did not apply to church day cares like First Baptist. Lande's residence had been perfectly legal.
"We reacted with anger and disbelief," said Kevin Payne, the pastor at First Baptist. "Anger because it was such an obviously crazy thing that children in church-sponsored childcare would not be protected, and disbelief that the law was written with that kind of loophole and no one had thought about it before."
Payne said the assault hit especially close to home for his congregation because the victim had attended worship services at the church.
Investigation finds hundreds of offenders live near church day cares
According to stats kept by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), there are nearly 500 religious-affiliated daycares around the state. The church locations are regulated differently than the 2,059 licensed child-care centers.
NBC Action News requested the addresses of 493 church day cares from the DHSS and shared the data with Earl Glynn of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity .
Glynn cross-referenced the day care locations with the addresses of more than 11,000 registered sex offenders in Missouri, looking for instances of offenders living within 1,000 feet of the day cares.
The research found up to 164 church day cares, about a third of the locations in the state, have sex offenders living within 1,000 feet. It also showed up to 349 offenders are possibly living within that distance.
The instances are geocoded on this Google map , which can be studied to see day care locations, and the names of the offenders residing within the 1,000-foot threshold. More detailed information about each offender can be found in the Missouri State Highway Patrol sex offender registry .
(NOTE: Because of variations with geocoding, all distances are approximate and should be individually verified. For a more detailed explanation of how the research was conducted, click here )
Lawmakers act to close the ‘loophole'
After the alleged crime, constituents urged state Sen. Victor Callahan, D-Independence, to fix the perceived loophole.
Callahan told NBC Action News he felt it was important to make the change, but wanted to make sure it was something police could enforce. He also wanted to make sure an amendment passed legal muster and did not define a "grandmother that watches two or three kids after school as a day care."
Before the end of the legislative session, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 250 , which will extend the residency restrictions to include church-sponsored daycares. The law will take effect on Aug. 28.
However, just like other new sex offender laws, the restrictions will not be enforced retroactively. This means offenders currently living within 1,000 feet of a church day care will be grandfathered in.
"There is nothing this law can do about what happened," Callahan said. "We are simply relocking a door that was potentially unlocked. Neighbors need to continue looking out for each other to keep their neighborhoods safe."
Callahan said loophole was likely
an unintended consequence of church versus state separation.
"It gives me some sense of relief but not what a mother wants to feel completely," said Whitebread. "You want to feel like your child is safe from all things at all times."
Across the state line, NBC Action News has covered a recent debate to add new laws for sex offenders. Currently, Kansas does not have any restrictions for where sex offenders can live.