GREENWOOD, S.C. — It will be difficult for this small town to forget how a minister hired to serve the area's growing Hispanic population instead preyed on its children.
The Rev. Fernando Garcia's crimes are not easily discussed by the people he was supposed to help.
The 42-year-old Baptist minister was sentenced to 60 years in prison Monday after he admitted to sexually molesting nearly two dozen children and videotaping the acts.
"Ninety percent of the parents . . . are still in denial," said grocery store owner Genara Bautista.
Victims and their parents have turned down counseling services offered by community leaders, Bautista said.
"They don't think it will help the kids later on," he said.
Garcia admitted in court to abusing 23 children, ages 5 to 13. He pleaded guilty to 32 counts of performing lewd acts and 15 counts of criminal sexual conduct.
He said he is an example of what can happen without that counseling. As a boy growing up in Mexico, Garcia said he was abused by a Roman Catholic priest.
"Your kids need special counseling," he said. "What you are seeing here is the result of somebody who never took the chance to be counseled."
Garcia stared at the courtroom floor while the mother of two of the victims, boys who were 10 and 12 years old at the time, called Garcia "this evil incarnate" and said her family would never be the same.
At least one Greenwood parent said the sentence wasn't enough.
"I have children, and if somebody did that to them, I'd want the death penalty," Sandra Bryan said.
The encounters with the children took place at Garcia's church office and at an elementary school where he worked as a library aide.
Police said they found in Garcia's office 26 videotapes of him sexually abusing children. The tapes came to light after an 8-year-old boy told his mother in May he had been molested by Garcia. Garcia was arrested two days later.
Police also found a list of 145 names indicating Garcia may have molested more children.
Police said the videotapes also showed at least two other victims, one from Atlanta and another from Carson City, Nev. They said those cases would not likely be pursued because investigators could not pinpoint where and when the attacks took place.
The local school district and church said nothing turned up in their background checks before Garcia was hired. Police and prosecutors said Garcia did not have a criminal record.
"Not having the ability to recognize him as this type of person doesn't ease the pain for the community," said Randy Vaughn, assistant superintendent for the school district. "This situation has caused us to examine our procedures."
Garcia came strongly recommended when he arrived here in 1998 to work with the Abbeville Baptist Association, leaving a ministry in Carson City. He was hired to serve the growing Hispanic population in this textile town of 20,000 people.
He held Sunday night services in Spanish at a local church and performed counseling.
Garcia's wife, Leticia, sobbed as she spoke in Spanish about her husband. "This is a different Fernando than what I used to know," she said through an interpreter.