Residents respond to sex offender's plans to move to town
AVOCA -- As word spread Wednesday evening and Thursday morning about a Level III sex offender's plans to move to Avoca, residents began to speak out about the situation.
Many of them preferred to remain anonymous, but Michelle Granum, who lives just a block away from where sex offender Jason Ryan Bitker plans to live, had no such qualms.
"I don't want a sex offender here," she said. "I have a 7-year-old daughter, and I don't want to have to worry even more about her safety."
Bitker, scheduled to be released March 7, plans to reside in the 100 block of Southwest Third Street in Avoca. He is currently incarcerated in the Rush City correctional facility, and was admitted to the state prison system in July 2003. He pleaded guilty to third-degree criminal sexual conduct in January of that year.
The complaint against Bitker states that in April 2002, the Redwood County Sheriff's Department received a report that a juvenile female was sexually assaulted. The young girl in question said she was sleeping on a couch in her residence in December 2001, and awakened to find herself partially unclothed, with Bitker on top of her. In March 2002, Bitker allegedly told an adult female he had intercourse with the girl, but said it was consensual. He later pleaded guilty to the charge of criminal sexual conduct.
The Murray County Sheriff's Office released information Wednesday night of Bitker's plans to reside in Avoca. The news came as a shock to many residents.
One woman, who prefers to remain anonymous, said she is especially concerned because she has a daughter in her early teens, close to the age of Bitker's victim.
"With a young teen, how can I justify being gone during the day in the summer?" she asked. "This used to be a safe community and is now looking more like a metropolitan area as far as crime goes."
Both the mother of the teen and Granum expressed their unhappiness with sex offenders being able to settle into neighborhoods with young children.
"It is good that the neighborhood is notified so we can take steps to protect our kids, but more should be done," the mother of the teen said.
She planned to talk with her children Thursday, as soon as they arrived home from school. Even though Bitker won't be in town for several weeks, she wants to begin preparing them now. She knows the extra restrictions and rules she will have to impose will upset her daughter, but doesn't feel safe with anything less.
"It may be extreme, but when it comes to your kids, you only have one chance," the teen's mother added.
Granum also plans to restrict her young daughter's activities after Bitker moves to town.
"I'm nervous enough about my kids' safety," Granum admitted. "But when you know something like this, it is worse. It is pretty sad when we have to keep our kids right next to us. No bike rides or walks to the park."
Deciding what to tell their children is something both mothers admitted they will struggle with. Granum worried about what kind of detail a 7-year-old needed to know, while the mother of the teen said she worried her daughter would get scared and go back to her more introverted ways.
"This is going to upset her," the mother of the teen said. "And if there is any kind of problems with this guy, we will have to get her a cell phone so we can be in constant contact. It will become a necessity."
Others on Thursday said they were shocked and angered that a Level III sex offender would move to the area, saying that the small town they felt was safer-than-most has lately become more of a problem.
"Things like this erase the entire attraction of our small town," the mother of the teen said.
The fact that Avoca has no police force and is patrolled once or twice a day by Murray County deputies, the mother said, probably factored into Bitker's decision to move to the small town.
"That makes it more attractive to unsavory types," she added.
Not only will she caution her daughter, and restrict where her daughter can go for walks and bike rides, the teen's mother plans to talk with her older teenaged sons about keeping a better eye on their sister and taking care of themselves and their own safety.
Bitker's criminal conviction history of assault, disorderly conduct, receiving stolen property and aiding and abetting in theft also brings up concerns in a neighborhood that feels like it just got rid of one alleged thief, only to find it may be replaced with another.
Granum, who said the situation makes her stomach turn, said she hopes to attend the public meeting regarding Bitker and his conditions of release so she feels better informed.
The meeting, to be conducted by the Murray County Sheriff's Office, is at 6 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Lincoln, Lyon, Murray Human Services Building conference room, 3001 Maple Rd., Slayton.