The pastor at a New Hampshire church is charged with possession of child sex abuse images and could face additional charges as part of an ongoing, years-long investigation, police say.
Stephen Bates, 46, 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.
Nashua police said the investigation leading to Bates' arrest began over five years ago, 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.
"I understand this is troubling for them, and it should be," said Nashua Police Lt. Brian Trefry.
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.
Right now, Bates only faces the one possession of child sexual abuse images charge but Nashua police said more charges are expected as the investigation continues and more digital evidence is analyzed.
Bail was set at $3,000 and Bates is scheduled to be arraigned in Hillsborough County Superior Court on Wednesday.
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.