Large O.C. church shaken by child sex abuse allegations
A well-known Orange County church has been roiled by allegations that a volunteer sexually assaulted children.
A Sunday school volunteer at Rock Harbor Church in Costa Mesa allegedly formed relationships with children in his church and went on to sexually abuse at least one of them multiple times between November 2009 and November 2011, according to church leaders and court documents.
Two families at Rock Harbor came forward with new allegations against Christopher Bryan McKenzie, the pool cleaner accused of years-long sexual relationships with at least three children younger than 14, pastors said Monday night.
McKenzie, 48, of Costa Mesa, attended Rock Harbor and applied to be a child-care volunteer at the 3,000-member campus in late 2007, Communications Director Jeff Gideon said.
On Saturday, Newport Beach police announced they had arrested McKenzie on suspicion of sexually abusing two boys, one from the late 1990s to 2005 and one from 2005 to 2007. Neither had ties to the church, police said.
At a Monday night meeting, Rock Harbor pastors announced two families from the congregation added allegations against McKenzie.
Lead Pastor Todd Proctor said the families approached Rock Harbor leadership after the announcement and were directed to police.
It's alleged McKenzie had substantial sexual conduct with one of the children on at least three occasions, according to court documents.
In total, McKenzie is charged with inappropriate interaction with four children. The fourth, who pastors said is also from Rock Harbor, was allegedly used to distribute obscene material.
Pastors told congregants Monday that they don't believe McKenzie had inappropriate contact with any children at the church or during a church function. Volunteers are never allowed to be alone with children, Proctor said.
However, he said, leaders believe McKenzie most likely met the children and formed relationships with their parents at Rock Harbor where he volunteered in a fifth-grade classroom for about five years.
At Rock Harbor, all child-care applicants are background checked, screened on the Megan's Law website, must produce references and are interviewed, leaders said.
McKenzie pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol in 2007. Gideon said the team conducting a background check was not informed of the incident. If a crime does appear on a volunteer’s application, a committee weighs the severity and how much time has elapsed, Gideon said.
McKenzie was ultimately granted approval to volunteer.
"Our kids probably had different levels of interaction with Chris, and we need to recognize that," Proctor said, adding that he had spoken to each of his three boys about the allegations. "One of my sons in particular had way more exposure under Chris' leadership."
Throughout the meeting, pastors repeatedly encouraged parents to talk to their children and contact police if they believe something inappropriate occurred.
"It's all heartbreaking," Proctor said.
McKenzie 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. He is being held on $1-million bail.
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--Jeremiah Dobruck, Times Community News
Photo: Christopher Bryan McKenzie. Credit: Daily Pilot