Sunday school teacher accused of sex crimes
A Sunday school volunteer at Rock Harbor Church in Costa Mesa allegedly formed relationships with boys in his congregation and went on to sexually abuse at least one of them multiple times between November 2009 and November 2011, according to a criminal complaint and interviews with church leaders.
These charges came to light after Newport Beach police announced Saturday that Christopher Bryan McKenzie, 48, of Costa Mesa, had been arrested for allegedly having years-long sexual relationships with two boys.
Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Herrera said two families came forward over the weekend with new allegations. The victims were as young as 8, she said.
In total, McKenzie is accused of inappropriate interaction with four boys, including substantial sexual contact on multiple occasions with three of them. He allegedly involved all of them in the production or distribution of obscene material.
Prosecutors are not releasing details of the allegations because more victims may come forward.
“I just want to make sure this investigation is kept clean right now,” Herrera said.
McKenzie’s arraignment was delayed Monday and he was remanded to custody. He is scheduled to appear in court again Dec. 21.
He was charged with 10 felony counts of lewd acts upon a child younger than 14, four felony counts of using a minor for the distribution of obscene matter, and two felony counts of distributing pornography to a minor, with sentencing enhancements for substantial sexual conduct with a child and committing lewd acts upon a child younger than 14 against more than one victim.
If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 45 years to life in state prison.
McKenzie’s public defender was in court Tuesday and was not immediately available for comment.
Public records show that McKenzie, who was born in Alabama, has lived in several cities around Orange County since the 1980s, including Santa Ana, Fountain Valley, Newport Beach and Huntington Beach, and also had short stints in Utah and South Carolina. Neither state’s sex offender registry listed McKenzie.
Rock Harbor’s lead pastor, Todd Proctor, said McKenzie likely formed relationships with the third and fourth victims through the church, but he emphasized there were no allegations of sexual abuse taking place at Rock Harbor or during church functions.
McKenzie was a Sunday school volunteer at Rock Harbor for about five years, pastors said.
In addition to volunteering in child care during the Saturday night and 11 a.m. Sunday services, McKenzie attended functions, such as youth camps, Proctor said.
He applied to volunteer at the 3,000-member Costa Mesa campus in late 2007, Communications Director Jeff Gideon said.
Child-care applicants must undergo an interview process and background check, Gideon said. McKenzie pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in August of 2007, but Rock Harbor representatives said information about the charge was not provided to them in the background check.
Newport Beach police arrested McKenzie on Friday after two men separately approached the department alleging McKenzie had inappropriate sexual relationships with them from the 1990s to 2005 and from 2005 to 2007, spokeswoman Kathy Lowe said.
One relationship began at age 8 and another at age 16, Lowe said.
Neither boy had ties to the church, police said.
After the arrests, two families approached Rock Harbor leadership and were directed to police, Proctor said.
One family alleged McKenzie abused their child at least three times — specifically by masturbation or sexual penetration — between November 2009 and November 2011, according to court documents.
Prosecutors declined to reveal the alleged victims’ ages, saying only that the crimes took place in Newport and surrounding cities.
Church family copes
Rock Harbor members met Monday night to discuss the allegations against McKenzie, who pastors said had previously been a respected parishioner.
“Chris has many relationships and friends in our church,” Proctor said, adding that multiple families approached him in disbelief that McKenzie could have harmed children.
Nevertheless, Proctor repeatedly encouraged parents to contact police if they believe McKenzie behaved in any inappropriate way with their children.
“There is a lot we don’t know, and we’re doing our best to cooperate with the legal process,” Proctor said.
To the room of more than 100 people, pastors gave advice to parents about how to talk to their children about McKenzie and sexual abuse.
“If you feel like there is a good chance something happened … you need to stop right there and call the police,” Pastor Doug Berry said.
Proctor also asked congregants to be aware that the charges are only allegations and be mindful of the alleged victims’ privacy.
The church has banned McKenzie from child care, but it has not abandoned him completely while he is in custody, pastors said.
Berry asked that a chaplain speak to McKenzie, and Rock Harbor pastors and elders said they will visit him in jail.
“As a pastor and a brother, I care about his soul. And there’s a tension in that,” Berry said.
— Lauren Williams contributed to this report.