Convicted sex offender accused of flashing kids in Paw Paw

PAW PAW, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) -- A big scare for Van Buren County as a registered sex offender terrorizes a community there.

Richard Charles Crawford is accused of exposing himself to two groups of young children in Paw Paw.

Police tell us the brave work of kids and parents helped them track down the suspect.

Last Wednesday it was a quiet summer afternoon on Ridge Road, until Mike Wheler heard his kids screaming.

"The kids came screaming across our yard. Crying like they had just seen a monster," Wheler said.

Two of his kids and three of their friends were walking down the street when a man on bike rode up to them.

He asked one of the girls if she was wearing any underwear and asked to see them.

When she refused, the suspect showed his genitals to the kids.

"And that's when my son yelled 'run'," Wheler said.

The local father said his parental instincts kicked in.

"I didn't ask questions, I just bolted out the door because I could see him starting to get on his bike," Wheler said.

The suspect tried to get away but a pedal fell off the bike.

Wheler said he was able to catch up to the man.

"He kept trying to talk me down out of it and I just wasn't going to listen," Wheler said.

The suspect ran off and Wheler called 911.

Police quickly responded and found the man on Red Arrow Highway.

He's been identified as 37-year-old Richard Crawford.

Crawford was just released from prison after spending nearly 20 years behind bars for sexual assault and breaking and entering.

Although he's a registered sex offender, the family had trouble seeing him on the online registry.

The Van Buren County Parole Office said Crawford is a Tier 1 sex offender, which is considered the lowest offense, and that kind of sex offender doesn't always show up on the listing.

"What price are our kids going to have to pay because they can't figure out to monitor them," Wheler said. "It just baffles me. I don't want to sacrifice any of my children, nobody else does either. But I realize they can't we with them 24/7."

Police say Crawford also exposed himself earlier that day to kids on Willard Street.

Officers are now looking for other victims of Crawford's terrifying acts.

"I just hope he serves a lot more time and stays away from kids," Wheler said.

While this is a scary situation no family wants to find themselves in, Wheler said parents need to prepare kids for this kind of danger.

"We always tell them, go in groups, you got to know who's around, keep your eye out for people that wouldn't normally be there," Wheler said.

Crawford has been charged with Indecent Exposure by a Sexual Delinquent Person and Accosting a Child for Immoral Purposes.

He's being held on a $50,000 bond.