GALLIPOLIS — As Gallia County Prosecutor Jason Holdren said, the story of a daycare run by a wife and a former firefighter, where children are exploited sexually, sounds like something to come from a horror movie or nightmare.
However, that same story unfolded into reality in the small southeast Ohio town of Rio Grande over the course of May 1, 2016 to April 12, 2017, according to Gallia Court of Common Pleas discussion in mid-May this year. Rio Grande resident, Matthew Case, 43, pleaded guilty to the rape of seven girls between the ages of 3 and 7 in that court proceeding. Case was sentenced Thursday by Gallia Common Pleas Judge Margaret Evans to 180 years in a state prison for 10 counts of first-degree rape and six counts of the third-degree felony crime of gross sexual imposition.
According to Ohio BCI Agent Larry McCoy, the Case family ran a daycare for at least three years with its latest group of children. Holdren believes potentially 16 children, at least, were abused by Case. Case’s sentence stipulates he will serve 180 years before being considered for parole. For the rapes, he would serve 15 years to life each and 60 months per sexual imposition charge. The sentence was part of a plea arrangement, said Holdren.
“He will be there (in prison) until he dies,” Holdren said the day of Case’s guilty plea.
Victim families are not mentioned to protect the innocent but three parents of children which attended the Case daycare made victim statements and Holdren read several more for families wishing to remain anonymous. Twelve statements in total were given to criminal justice officials. One mother asked if Case would understand how it felt to know his children would want nothing to do with him, how it would feel to never be free from a small cell and to never see a grandchild outside of police custody. She said she hoped Case felt as low and degraded as the children he touched.
“Members of our family thought of your family as part of their family,” said a grandmother. “You spent time going to dinner together and all that time you were physically and mentally abusing their daughter. They trusted your wife and you with their babies and you prayed on that trust. This little girl called you Paw Paw Matt. You were such a monster that you took that love and trust from a little girl and used it to cause her years of issues…We hope that the people in prison you depend on to keep you safe from harm let you down the way that you and your wife have let down our family.”
A father called Case a predator and said that “predators needed camouflage and predators needed to hide because if prey saw a predator they would avoid them.” He said Case used his status as a fireman to appear as someone safe and trustworthy and used it to prey on children “just like the wolf puts on the sheep’s clothing to prey on the lambs.”
The father said there was a day that Case came to his home to pick up the father’s son because the father was sick.
“I willingly handed my little lamb to Matt Case, thinking he was in good hands,” the father said. “I handed a lamb to a wolf. We all know what wolves do to lambs. I’ve had a hard time with that and I’m not okay with that.”
The father said that the only comfort he had going forward was knowing that Case would be locked in a “small box” for 23 and a half hours a day for 365 days a year the rest of his life.
After the victim statements ended, Holdren described the preying and grooming process used by Case on the children in his care. First, Case would tempt them to sit in his lap with an electronic tablet containing games. The former firefighter reportedly told the children he would never do anything to hurt them. After Case felt comfortable with the child, he would attempt to lure the child upstairs using things like candy or the tablet. The prosecutor described one such child had been directed to serve as a lookout to inform Case if someone was coming up the stairs. Holdren said another child attempted to distract her fellow children by keeping them engaged with games in an attempt to protect them from Case’s solicitations.
The prosecutor would describe a conversation asking one child about nightmares she recently had. The girl said a monster was visiting her dreams. When asked what the monster looked like, she answered it was “Paw Paw Matt.”
Case had more than 1,300 child pornography images on his laptop and more than 200 such images on his cellphone with one photo being one he took of a child, said Holdren. Case possessed infant child pornography and communicated regularly with pedophiles over the internet and shared videos and photos.
Investigators caught wind of the assaults in the middle of April 2017. Two victims spoke with parents about the abuse and eventually Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation Crimes Against Children Unit, Gallia County Sheriff’s Office and FBI Columbus Child Exploitation Task Force arrested Case in April. McCoy said there may have been upwards of 20 children in and out of the house over the course of their investigation.
As for Case’s wife, Holdren could not comment on her status due to ongoing investigation.
Both Gallia Sheriff Matt Champlin and Holdren encouraged families seeking out childcare to double-check the backgrounds of those who would potentially care for their children. Champlin said that predators came in all forms and if a child suddenly started acting abnormal or had signs of physical distress, parents should take a closer look at the situation.
Both area law enforcement and the Gallia Children’s Services agencies say they will guide families through the healing process in an attempt to connect them with the right counseling services.
Holdren said if families suspect that Case had inappropriate contact with their child, contact the Gallia Prosecutor’s Office at 740-446-0018, the Gallia Sheriff at 740-446-1221 or Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation at 855-BCI-OHIO.