TROY, Ohio (AP) — The one-story, brick ranch-style home blends into the working-class neighborhood along Nutmeg Square in this western Ohio city, offering no signs of the terrible secrets it once concealed.
Its former owner will return to court in Dayton on Tuesday to be sentenced for guilty pleas to child rape and related charges in a haunting case that experts call unusual because the perpetrator was an adoptive father and the victims were three boys in his care. The pleas have all but ensured he will spend the rest of his life in prison.
The 40-year-old man, whom The Associated Press isn't naming to protect the children's identities, said in an interview that he had been a foster parent, youth basketball coach and substitute teacher for years without any problems. He said he didn't adopt the boys with bad intentions.
"I always wanted to protect kids," he said during one of two interviews at the Miami County Jail. "Somewhere along the line, things went wrong."
In an era of stunning cases of sexual abuse of young boys by respected authority figures — priests, Boy Scout leaders, an assistant coach at a famed college football program — the repeated rapes of boys by an adoptive father who also arranged for two other men to rape one adopted son shocked his unsuspecting neighbors, investigators and children's services officials.
"It was just devastating to hear about. It's really sad for the kids," said April Long, a mother of three who was their next-door neighbor. She and other neighbors say they didn't suspect anything; the children played outside, and the man did neighborly things like pick up their mail or mow their lawn when they were away.
"You think: 'What could I have done? Is there something we missed that we should have seen?'" Long said, gazing at the home from her front porch lined with children's bicycles.
The single man was a foster parent for six other children before he began adopting children in the past three years. He adopted a brother and sister and an unrelated boy, and was in the process of adopting another boy, all ages 9 to 12, when authorities arrested him a year ago Sunday following an undercover sting that began when a detective looked into an online posting about "taboo sex."
Ohio officials don't believe there has been a comparable case in the state in recent years, and media reports over the past five years show only a handful of reported cases nationally in which adoptive fathers sexually abused children in their care. Child abuse by adoptive fathers is much rarer than by biological fathers, or by other male relatives and non-relatives, federal studies have indicated.
"This isn't a typical situation. It certainly isn't typical of people seeking adoption," said David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. "Most abusers of this sort have an interest in a child during a certain period of their development. They are looking for opportunities where they can get access to the kids. They don't want to have custodial responsibility."
Fostering and adopting children meant passing background checks and other scrutiny, with home studies and follow-up visits by social workers.
"There can be terrible, horrific instances that no one at any level of government or the adoption system foresaw," Benjamin Johnson, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, said of the case. "That can be a very difficult thing to reconcile ... and we think about that a lot."
The private adoption agency, Dayton-based Action Inc., has said little about the case other than to deny wrongdoing. The state reviewed its operations and noted some procedural violations but no reason to suspend or revoke the agency's license. All the children had been in Texas foster care before coming to Ohio through the agency, one of many that work through interstate agreements to find homes for some of the more than 100,000 children in foster care awaiting adoption at any given time in the United States.
The adoptive father said the three children appeared to be doing so well, he was asked by an agency employee to take a fourth.
The children were involved in sports, school and church and played with other children. They went trick-or-treating — snapshots from two Halloweens ago show the boys dressed as Green Lantern and Star Wars' Darth Maul and the girl as a princess. They had Xboxes, Wiis and other games and toys at home.
"I loved my kids and wanted the best for them," the man said.
He said he had been sexually abused as a child by a close family member and blames that for his feeling that he wasn't doing anything wrong when he began taking the boys into his bed in what he claimed was a way of showing love.
"I never forced the boys to do anything," he said. "That might not mean anything to anyone else, but it's important to me."
But his explanation doesn't account for subsequently inviting a man to their Troy home to rape one of the boys, and then taking the same boy to another man's home to be raped. He agreed that was wrong, although he stressed that he didn't prostitute the boy by getting anything in return.
Apparently, no child ever hinted at any problem when separated from him by case workers for interviews.
"I guess they just liked it there," the man said.
Police reported that when they interviewed the boy, then age 10, who had also been raped by the two other men, he began shaking, after initially refusing to confirm that anything wrong had happened.
He told police he "didn't want to be taken from this home and separated from his new brothers and sister," a police report stated.
After the man was arrested, the 9-year-old boy who hadn't been adopted yet was returned to Texas social services authorities, while the other three were placed in foster care in Ohio.
At a pretrial hearing last November, a child psychologist testified about some three dozen therapy sessions he had had with the 10-year-old boy, the Dayton Daily News reported.
"It is so traumatic within the security of my office, when he's laying on a sofa, hugging a bear, to talk about these things," said Gregory Ramey of The Children's Medical Center of Dayton.
The adoptive father has already been sentenced here to at least 60 years in prison. In Dayton, he is expected to be sentenced to at least 50 years, to run concurrently.
He said he agreed to plead guilty in hopes of sparing the children from having to testify, that it "was the last good thing I could do for them." In a jail interview, his eyes teared up and his voice choked as he said he was sorry for the pain he had caused them.
In a letter from jail, he wrote: "I've been able to protect my kids from everything and everyone, except myself."
Associated Press news researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report. Contact the reporter at http://www.twitter.com/dansewell .
U.S. Child Welfare Information: https://www.childwelfare.gov/can/statistics/stat_natl_state.cfm
Crimes against Children Research Center: http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/