SANTA ANA, Calif. — A 51-year-old man has been arrested after being accused of sexually assaulting a young girl at a Santa Ana church on Father’s Day, and police believe he may have additional victims, authorities said Thursday.
Jose Trinidad Tavarez allegedly molested the 4-year-old girl while she attended a service on Sunday at Oasis Christian Church, according to a Santa Ana Police Department news release.
The incident occurred as children were playing in a separate room while their parents attended a Father’s Day service, followed by a holiday celebration, Cpl. Anthony Bertagna told KTLA.
As the girl’s mother left for the service, “she noticed that the suspect in this case is entering into the room where he’s the only adult with the children in that room,” Bertagna said.
Later, as they were driving home, the girl told her mother about the incident and specifically named Tavarez, investigators said.
Tavarez has worked as a handyman and security guard for the church for about a year. He was known to many in the congregation and had been living out of a van across the street, authorities said.
Investigators believe that at some point on Sunday, Tavarez was “able to lure this 4-year-old away.” The van has since been impounded.
Police arrested Tavarez on Monday, according to inmate records. He was booked on suspicion of child molestation at the Orange County Jail, where he is being held on $100,000 bail.
Tavarez has prior run-ins with law, having been previously arrested on suspicion of soliciting an undercover officer for sex and contempt of court, according to the release.
Anatol Ford, a pastor at the neighboring Starlight Baptist Church who knows Tavarez, said he’s a former drug addict who was trying to turn his life around through God.
“He’s very faithful,” Ford said. “He just come off of drugs not too long ago. And the street, he lived in the street.”
Tavarez, who’s a father of three, seemed like he was on a good path, Ford added.
“He got saved, according to the pastor, and he got in church and he was singing and dancing and praising God,” he said.
An Oasis Church employee told KTLA it was fully cooperating with the police investigation.
Detectives believe Tavarez may have victimized others, and they released surveillance footage Thursday showing the suspect near the church on Sunday as they ask possible victims to come forward.