BUDA, Texas (KXAN) — An associate pastor at Betania Baptist Church in east Austin is facing charges of sexual assault with a child. Church members say Garcia has played a big role at the small church for many years, including his role as the youth minister.
According to court documents, 59-year-old Ruben Garcia, of Buda, has been wanted by authorities for the past two months. Garcia was arrested by the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force on Monday, after investigations in Hays County and Nueces County resulted in charges.
“It took me and my family by surprise. It’s kind of heartbreaking if it’s true especially knowing he was around children at that time,” said one of the church members who asked to remain anonymous.
Garcia is being charged with two counts of sexual assault of a child and one count of indecency with a child by sexual contact. According to court documents, Garcia groped and assaulted a female child younger than 17 on three separate occasions in Hays County in 2013 and 2014.
“We just didn’t see it, that he would do something like that,” said the church member. “He was a nice guy, he was friendly. It’s kind of hard now knowing what he’s being charged with. Now I go back and question if he was true with who he was.”
This church member says Garcia was at the church as recently as last Sunday. He says the pastor was close with the children at the church, adding that he even attended summer camps as a counselor and invited the youth to stay at his home as a quick way to leave for camp.
“We had some of the families living down south. Some of the conversations were always an approval with the parents to allow the kids to sleep over at his house in Buda so that they could leave from there in the morning without having to face traffic and such for it,” he said.
Even though it’s unknown if the accusations are related to any church members or function, parishioners say it’s hard on everyone and hope no other families have been negatively impacted.
“We are all shocked and overwhelmed with what’s going on. From my understanding the conversation with those parents that had youth in the youth department with us at the same time, they have also talked to their kids and are asking them to step forward if anything inappropriate has ever happened,” said the church member.
“It was an individual that was taking advantage of a child and did some bad things and people shouldn’t hold the church responsible for the actions of that one individual.”
The indictment for Garcia was filed in April. According to the Hays County Sheriff’s Department, it was only made aware of the indictment late last month, since the department was tied up with a number of other felony search warrants that needed to be taken care of as well.
When approached by the Task Force that Garcia had been located, Hays County helped make the arrest.