Outrage after four sex offenders found living near Columbia school

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COLUMBIA - A child pornography bust in a neighborhood Thursday revealed four sex offenders had been living within 1,000 feet of Lange Middle School.

Friday, neighbors questioned how they were allowed to live there in the first place.

Michael Brewer said he's lived on Grace Ellen Drive with his wife for 30 years.

"It's a very diverse street, I'll tell you," he said.

Brewer said he was always curious about one house that seemed to have a group of men living in it. One of his neighbors told him it was a group of sex offenders.

"My biggest concern is that we were never told why they were there or how long they had been there," Brewer said. "And nobody seemed to want to answer our questions."

Boone County Sheriff's Department Detective Tom O'Sullivan said the department found out from a neighbor in March the men living in the house on Grace Ellen were sex offenders.

"While we were in the process of trying to relocate them we received information that child pornography was being downloaded at a computer in that house," he said. "So we held off on moving them out until we could work on the investigation."

O'Sullivan said it was the department's discretion to keep the sex offenders in the home, even though it was close to Lange, while the child pornography investigation was going on.

"Beyond the child pornography, there wasn't any indication that any of these individuals were a direct threat to the school," he said.

The Boone County Sheriff's Department Cyber Crimes Task Force arrested one of the men Thursday and told the other three sex offenders they would have to move. O'Sullivan said the three men were given ample time to move out.

"We can't just go to somebody's door and say, ‘Hey get your stuff, get out,'" he said. "It doesn't work like that."

But neighbors still questioned how the sex offenders were allowed to move that close to Lange at all.

"I just think it's odd how they got there in the first place," Brewer said.

KOMU 8 News reported in July 2014 there was a registered sex offender living in the same home on Grace Ellen Drive. O'Sullivan said, at that time, it could have been allowed because the rules and regulations regarding sex offenders changes frequently.

"That's one of the big challenges for us, is the constant changing in the requirements and court rulings," he said. "If you keep changing the rules, it makes it extremely difficult to consistently enforce them."

O'Sullivan also said a lot of the responsibility to make sure the sex offenders are legally allowed to live where they do is up to the sex offenders themselves.

"They have a responsibility to make sure they're in compliance with the rules and the regs," he said. "They know the consequences of failing to register and failing to abide by the rules could result in their arrest and prosecution."

However, O'Sullivan said the department does check and make sure every sex offender is in compliance and their information is up to date about two to three times a year.