Two Harker Heights residents were among nine Central Texas men arrested Monday, accused of targeting children for sexual crimes on the Internet.

The Child Exploitation Unit of the state attorney general’s office, aided by the Copperas Cove Police Department conducted a sting operation May 5-7, targeting men who use the Internet to prey on children, culminating with the arrests. Arrested were Justin Logan Perez, 21, and Steven Lee Merrill, 37, both of Harker Heights.

On Monday, Sgt. Martin Ruiz, Copperas Cove Police Department spokesman, said that from May 5-7, the state attorney general’s office, aided by CCPD, targeted predators who used the Internet to sexually solicit and then travel with the intent to commit sexual crimes against minor-age children.

David Maxwell, director of law enforcement for the attorney general’s office said the nine men arrested believed they were making contact with children during solicitations on the Internet. Maxwell also said that as a part of the ongoing investigation, law enforcement will probe whether children were physically victimized by any of the nine men arrested.

It is acknowledged that doing so is easier said than done, but parents and guardians of minor children have a responsibility to monitor their child’s Internet activity and with whom they subsequently associate.

At the very least, parents and guardians should firmly warn children of making Internet contacts with anyone who solicits them for sexual activities. While this task may be difficult for some parents, it is harder still to deal with the aftermath of the sexual assault of their child, particularly when it could have been prevented by stern parenting.

Child predators are held in very low regard by decent law-abiding citizens. This is as it should be. Hopefully, if convicted, those found guilty will be held in the same low esteem by the judiciary.

On the same general subject and on a happier note, a Killeen man was recently sentenced to 50 years in state prison after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting a 6-year old girl.

Clayton Vincen Hale, 25, pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual assault Wednesday in Judge John Gauntt’s 27th Judicial District Court.

Not a Harker Heights problem you say? Killeen and Harker Heights are separated only by a street sign.

Continuing on a happy note, the Bell County grand jury indicted Christopher Gerard Killebrew II, 20, of Harker Heights on a charge of theft of a firearm. Firearm thefts are particularly troubling because of the potential for violence. A firearm untraceable to the perpetrator of violent crime is particularly troubling.

Heights police responded to a variety of crime reports this week, in addition to handling the service of city warrants, public intoxication and driving while intoxicated incidents, the latter being a criminal offense.


An aggravated assault with a firearm was reported Wednesday in the 300 block of South Amy Lane.

An assault with bodily injury was reported Thursday in the 800 block of Plaza Court.

An assault by threat was reported Friday in the 800 block of West Central Texas Expressway.


For the number of retail establishments there are in Harker Heights, it is both surprising and elating that only two thefts were reported this week. Hopefully, that low number will continue.

A shoplifting theft was reported Friday in the 2000 block of Heights Drive.

A theft under $50 was reported Friday in the 2000 block of Heights Drive.

Other crimes/incidents

Unlawful restraint was reported Saturday in the 400 block of North Ann Boulevard.

This crime usually involves one party illegally preventing another from lawful movement. This may be accomplished by verbal threats or by actual physical force. There is a thin line between unlawful restraint and kidnapping, the latter being a felony.

A report of failing to comply with requirements upon striking an unattended vehicle was reported Saturday in the 200 block of Central Texas Expressway.

This is a “hit and run” incident. Note that I did not call this an accident. The “hit” may have been and accident, but the “run” was not. Shame on this driver!

John Vander Werff is a 30-year veteran of law enforcement, with a decade in city and county law enforcement and 20 years with state police.

John Vander Werff is a 30-year veteran of law enforcement and a Copperas Cove resident.​

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