A former daycare instructor from Pittsburgh pleaded guilty on Monday to sexually assaulting 12 boys and has been sentenced to 35 to 70 years in prison as part of a negotiated plea deal, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports.
Matthew K. Byars, 26, admitted to sexually abusing 12 boys ranging in age from 6 to 17 years old over a period of several years, many of whom he met while working as a daycare instructor at Tender Care Learning Center in Scott Township just south of Pittsburgh, where he was known as "Mr. Matt."
Eleven of those victims sat in the jury box at Byars' hearing Monday as the prosecuting attorney listed the details of each child's case, according to the Post-Gazette. The courtroom became so emotionally charged that one victim, now 9 years old, shouted "Find someone your own age, Matt," and fled the court room.
During the hearing, victims presented handwritten statements to Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Donna Jo McDaniels describing the pain they suffered at Byars' hands.
"I feel sad and lonely. But once I see the other kids, I'm not so lonely because I know I'm not the only one," one victim wrote, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "But what's the worst is that every morning I wake up, I think of that."
Byars was hired at Tender Care Learning Center in 2007 after passing all background checks and managers never received any complaints about his behavior, the center's vice president told Channel 4 Action News.
During his time at the center, Byars developed personal relationships with many students under his care, often taking them on organized outings and inviting them to sleep over at his home, the Post-Gazette reports.
Then, in July of 2011, Byars was arrested on multiple charges following accusations that he filmed and inappropriately touched a former student, then 9, while the boy was sleeping over at his apartment.
Police in Scott Township immediately launched an investigation into Byars and Tender Care, which led many more boys and their families to come forward with charges of sexual abuse, Chartiers Valley Patch reported.
In the wake of those charges, lawsuits were brought against Tender Care claiming the center had knowledge of Byars' abuse and failed to report it.
According to reports, Byars' acts of sexual abuse ranged from fondling the boys to making them perform oral sex on him to photographing and videotaping them engaged in sexual activities with each other, the Post-Gazette reports.
Police say incidents occurred at Byars' home and at the daycare facility, where Byars would often call students into back rooms or restrooms during recess, Chartiers Valley Patch reported. In one case, Byars reportedly took a boy to a nearby church and fondled him "near the pulpit and under a large cross."
Byars offered a brief apology to victims at this hearing Monday, according to the Post-Gazette.
"I do realize the effect of my actions on so many people," he said. "I truly am sorry."