Bentonville Police say Ali M. Matar, Jr, 21, of Lowell, sexually assaulted a five-year-old girl while on RE Baker Elementary school premises. District officials said Matar has been employed with Bentonville schools since October 20-13 and was working for the district's after school Adventure Club Program.
The school district and police department held a joint press conference Thursday afternoon at the district office and explained the entire investigation was launched after a concerned parent made a report to the child abuse hotline from the Arkansas State Police Crimes Against Children Division on Saturday. A detective was assigned to the case, a forensic interview with the victim took place at the Children's Advocacy Center on Tuesday and police had Matar in custody by Wednesday evening.
"We'll continue to work with the police to see if we'd had any gaps in terms of something that didn't go right. Obviously something went wrong... Our expectation is that an employee at the Adventure Club is always with another employee with children, that they're never by themselves. In this case, that obviously didn't happen and we still need to try to determine what brought that on," said Superintendent Michael Poore.
Poore went on to say Matar was also involved with the Adventure Club programs at Apple Glen, Willowbrook and Elm Tree Elementary Schools, after passing state and FBI background checks.
"None of our background work could have ever led us to believe that this person would have done this."
Police Chief Jon Simpson said his team worked quickly to get Matar behind bars.
"We've got an individual here that's definitely betrayed public trust to a great extent," said Chief Simpson.
Schools strive to keep students safe, so Poore felt the emotional impact when he learned of the reported crime. He also said district officials will continue working closely with police since this investigation is still in the early stages.
"Well you can't help but put yourself in the mindset of a parent when something like this goes on and you think of your own kids and the reaction you just have as a dad... The committment that you'll have from our district is that we're going to continue to do everything we can to protect every child."
Poore said all parents that have children in Adventure Club received a text alert, phone call and a letter from school staff alerting them of the arrest. As of now, he said Matar is suspended with pay but that district officials will be seeking termination at their meeting on Monday, May 19.
We have also discovered Matar is involved with a church in Rogers and we spoke exclusively with his sister. Johanna Matar said her father is the pastor at the church Llamada Final NWA, Inc on 2nd Street in Rogers, and that her brother sometimes worked there playing the guitar. She says she is the one that watched after the kids at the church and that her brother did not interact with them. After learning of her brother's arrest, she said she was shocked especially considering she trusts Matar with her own children.
"I have a two year old and he's with her most of the time... He's a very genuine person that wouldn't harm anybody... Even his closes friends called me and were like, what's going on, I can't believe this is going on. You can't see this in him whatsoever," said Johanna.
During this exclusive interview, she also told us she has not spoken to her brother since his arrest and that her entire family is struggling after learning about this case. We found Matar on Facebook and several friends have posted on his page saying they are sending prayers to him and his family. One friend said he talked with Matar after his arrest and that he seemed in good spirits.
Matar is still in the Benton County Jail with no bond and a court date set for June 23. Investigators say since the victim is under 14 years old, Matar's Class Y Felony Rape charge carries a possible 25 to 40 year sentence.
Police say the investigation has revealed no evidence of other victims but anyone with information should call Bentonville Police Department at (479) 271-3170.
On Thursday, the school district superintendent Michael Poore sent a letter to parents through email and text alert explaining the situation:
Dear R.E. Baker Parents,
We are contacting you to inform you of very disturbing news related to an Adventure
Club employee. We are notifying the entire R.E. Baker community, even if your child
does not attend Adventure Club, so that you have an awareness of this notice. This
employee was arrested yesterday and charged with a very egregious act involving a
student during an Adventure Club afterschool program. We have no reason to believe
your child has been involved in any way, but please be assured that the Bentonville
Police and this school district take the safety of each and every child very seriously, and
we will continue to investigate.
If you feel you have any information that needs to be reported, please do not hesitate to
contact the Bentonville Police Department at (479) 271-3170. We do not plan on talking
to your students about this matter in their classroom. If you need support for your child
from our staff, please reach out to our R.E. Baker administrative staff or counselors.