Fayetteville School District athletic director Barry Gebhart was arrested Tuesday evening in connection with Internet stalking of a child, a felony, according to the Benton County Sheriff’s Office.
Gebhart, 50, was arrested in Rogers after a detective with the Benton County Sheriff’s Office arranged a meeting at Pinnacle Hills Promenade while pretending to be a 14-year-old girl, according to the probable cause affidavit (PDF).
Officials said this all began when Glenn Latham, a detective with the Benton County Cyber Crimes Division, observed a suspicious post from Gebhart on the Whisper social networking app in early October. The mobile app allows people to anonymously post secrets in the form of text superimposed on a picture. Users can then privately or publicly respond to the post.
Latham began posing as a child while communicating with Gebhart, who used the display name “BigDog” and identified himself as a teacher. During their initial chat, Gebhart asked the fictional child how old she was. Latham responded “14.” Gebhart then asked for a photograph, the affidavit states.
Their interactions went on for over two weeks on a daily basis. During that time, Gebhart suggested meeting with the fictional child on more than one occasion. He also made several sexual comments, and sent a photograph of his penis and several photos of his face to the girl. Gebhart also asked to see photographs of the fictional child’s breasts, according to the affidavit.
Latham eventually identified Gebhart and was instructed by his supervisors to continue with the investigation.
A meeting was arranged for Oct. 7 at Pinnacle Hills Promenade, but Gebhart’s vehicle was not seen at the specified location, and he did not respond to any messages for the rest of the day. Communications resumed the following morning.
For the next two weeks, their interactions continued. Detectives said Gebhart offered to tutor the girl, and stated numerous times that he wanted to have sex with her. Gebhart asked for photographs of the fictional child and was sexually explicit in his description of what he wanted to do with the girl. He also sent photos to the undercover detectives when requested. According to the affidavit, most of the photos appeared to be taken in an office setting.
The Cyber Crimes Division sent a subpoena to Whisper, revealing several posts by Gebhart which made references to skimpily clad girls wearing plaid miniskirts, like a school girl’s uniform. One post referred to a girl Gebhart had in class that day in which he stated he could see up her skirt, according to court documents.
The subpoena from Whisper also revealed the GPS coordinates of each post, which indicated Gebhart was using the app near Fayetteville High School and near his home at 6296 Persimmon Street in Fayetteville.
In their affidavit, detectives said they used another smartphone app called Kik Messenger to communicate with Gebhart, insisting that they stated the fictional child’s age to Gebhart on several occasions.
A second meeting was set for Oct. 22 at Pinnacle Hills Promenade. Detectives said Gebhart was spotted circling Dillards several times that evening, each time stopping to look inside where he was told the girl would be waiting. Gebhart was eventually stopped and taken into custody.
During conversations with detectives, Gebhart admitted he had gone to the mall to meet the girl. He also admitted he knew she was underage.
Gebhart told detectives he believed the girl was probably the first one he had communicated with on Whisper, but said he had chatted with other women and even met several for sexual encounters.
Gebhart denied meeting any other underage girls, but did admit to texting with a girl that was a senior at Fayetteville High School. Gebhart said he stopped talking to the girl once she revealed she was a student at FHS.
In further interviews, Gebhart told detectives he had received unsolicited nude photos from other girls, but deleted them immediately and asked for non-nude photographs instead.
Gebhart’s bond was set at $75,000 during a hearing Wednesday afternoon. His arraignment is scheduled for Dec. 2.
Superintendent Vicki Thomas released the following statement regarding Gebhart’s arrest:
To our parents, guardians and friends,
As you may already be aware, today has been a difficult day for all of us at the Fayetteville Public Schools and in the Fayetteville community. Athletic director Barry Gebhart was arrested last night by the Benton County Police Department on suspicion of Internet stalking of a child.
Upon my notification of his arrest, Gebhart was immediately placed on paid administrative leave, pending the outcome of the police investigation. We are fully cooperating with the Benton County Sheriff’s department in their investigation.
As a staff member and as a parent, I urge you to continue to be vigilant in watching over your children’s cyber activity. If you have any concerns regarding this situation, or any other internet safety issue, please contact our school resource officers at 445-1204 or 445-1205.
The safety of your children is of paramount importance to us. Any time there is a possible crime such as this, there is a concern for other potential victims. Anyone with any information should contact their local police department. The Fayetteville Police Department may be reached at 479-587-3555.
As a 1981 graduate of Fayetteville High School and a 1985 graduate of the University of Arkansas, Gebhart has been with the district since 1986. He is a longtime former Fayetteville High School basketball coach who was named the district’s director of athletics in 2009.