The former pastor at a New Hampshire church has been removed from that position amid an investigation into child sex abuse images.
Stephen Bates, 46, the now-former pastor of Bible Baptist Church in Nashua, faces five felony charges of possession of child sexual abuse images after investigators said they found five graphic videos showing child sex abuse images on a flash drive in his pocket.
Bates was arrested Tuesday morning at the Bible Baptist Church on Caldwell Road, where he lives, on a felony charge of possession of child sexual abuse images. Court documents released Thursday show he is now facing five charges of possession of child sexual abuse images, instead of just one.
In a statement posted on the church's website, the congregation denounced Bates and called the allegations against him "ungodly, unholy, unnatural, perverted, and reprehensible."
"We condemn (his actions) as completely counter to the beliefs, work, and mission of Bible Baptist Church and the Scriptures we hold so dear," the statement reads.
"We have worked with and will continue to support our local law enforcement in this matter and our wish is that justice be served. Our hearts break for all his victims and we sorrow with them for the hurt, pain, and irreparable damage he has caused. We encourage anyone victimized by Stephen Bates’ actions to contact local law enforcement," the statement continued.
The church noted that they are trying to have Bates vacate their premises, but his current bail conditions require him to return to that address. The church said they are waiting on those bail conditions to be amended so they can have him removed.
What we know about the investigation into Stephen Bates
Court documents show Bates had been under investigation dating back to 2016 after several different investigations across the country pointed back to an IP address associated with his church.
A court affidavit said that when Bates was arrested on Tuesday, he had two USB drives in his pants pocket. A forensic review of the drives showed child sexual abuse images in various folders involving children as young as 13.
Investigators said multiple other electronic devices were also seized from the Bible Baptist Church and a complete forensic examination of the devices is still pending.
Nashua police said the investigation leading to Bates' arrest began in August of 2016 when the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children sent Nashua police a tip indicating that child sexual abuse images had been accessed by an electronic device utilizing an IP address associated with the Bible Baptist Church. Similar tips were received again in 2017 and were investigated, but police said the results were not sufficient to support criminal charges.
In 2019, as part of a Homeland Security investigation into the production and distribution of child sex abuse images in Denver, Colorado, the suspect in that case shared images with an unknown individual with an IP address associated with the Bible Baptist Church.
A year later, police in Tallahassee, Florida, investigating the publishing of child sexual abuse images on the internet discovered the account responsible for publishing the images used an IP address associated with the same New Hampshire church.
Again in 2021, a Homeland Security investigation into the sexual exploitation of a child in Blaine, Washington, found that the suspect in that case had communicated with an unknown individual through social media "about their shared interest in having sexual contact with children." Again, the IP address used by the unknown individual was associated with the Bible Baptist Church.
By Wednesday afternoon, the church's website was down. Although police say no local victims have been identified, they're encouraging any parishioners with concerns to come forward.
Nashua police said Bates was considered a person of interest in the earlier investigations but until Tuesday there wasn't enough evidence to charge him with any crimes. While executing a search warrant at the church on Tuesday, police said they found two flash drives on Bates that contained numerous images of child sex abuse images.
Bates is currently free on bail. An arraignment has been scheduled for April 7 in Hillsborough Superior Court Southern District.
After Bates posted bail, NBC10 Boston asked him about the charges he is facing. He refused to comment.
Anyone with further information on the case is asked to call the Nashua Police Department Crime Line at 603-589-1665.