Bret Holterman was 17 when authorities first suspected he'd had inappropriate contact with children.
The victims were his neighbors, two Hilton Head Island girls, ages 3 and 5, who he was accused of sexually assaulting, according to Beaufort County court records.
It was a serious charge, one that should have landed Holterman, now 29, on the state's sex offender registry.
Fourteenth Judicial Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone says a Beaufort County Sheriff's Office investigator failed to read Holterman his Miranda rights before he confessed.
As a result, Stone says, the charge was dismissed and Holterman pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of aggravated assault and battery. That reduction meant he wasn't placed on the list. If he had made the registry, his address would have been public.
Instead, Holterman was sentenced under the state's Youthful Offender Act to inpatient treatment at a mental health facility and five years of probation, Stone said.
He also was prohibited from being in the presence of any child, Stone said.
"When the case came in, the facts were disturbing, but we couldn't prosecute it as a (criminal sexual conduct) case because the case depended on (Holterman's) statement," said Stone, who was an assistant solicitor when he handled the case in 2000. "He had not been read his Miranda rights before the statement, so I knew it couldn't be admitted in court."
Sheriff P.J. Tanner, elected the year before the Jan. 24, 2000, incident, said the Miranda warning wasn't an issue because Holterman volunteered to provide a written statement confessing to the assaults.
Tanner said the confession, which came before Holterman's arrest when he was only a "person of interest," could have been used in court.
"There was never a hearing on the statement. A judge never got an opportunity to rule on it," he said. "His (Stone's) choice was based on a possibility, an assumption. He made that decision based on his experience as a lawyer and his responsibilities as a prosecutor."
That disagreement aside, the result meant that those living near Holterman had one less tool with which to protect their children.
"I can tell you the facts now because I remember the case as clear as day. I knew I had a bad guy," Stone said.
Holterman was arrested July 16 on charges he peeped into the window of an 8-year-old girl in Bluffton's Mill Creek community three days before.
The same day Holterman was accused of being a Peeping Tom, a Bluffton mother says he posed as a Beaufort County School District employee and tried to persuade her to allow him to examine her son for "testing," according to a Sheriff's Office incident report.
Tanner said deputies are investigating that incident and others like it.
Those incidents aren't the only ones involving Holterman and children.
Since 2000, he has violated the conditions of his probation and parole at least three times, sending him to prison in both South Carolina and Alabama, according to court records.
After his release from the mental health facility in 2001, Holterman moved to Alabama, where he violated his probation by failing to report his whereabouts to authorities, Stone said. He was sent to prison and released in 2003. Holterman also was convicted in Alabama of felony credit card fraud, second-degree theft and reckless endangerment, according to court records.
In June 2004, he was a suspect in the attempted kidnapping and sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl vacationing on Hilton Head Island, according to a Sheriff's Office report. The girl told deputies she was sleeping in a downstairs bedroom of her family's Coral Sands Resort rental unit when a man led her outside and "crammed" his hand down her pants.
At the time, Holterman was a Coral Sands employee, according to the report.
Because the young victim couldn't positively identify her attacker, Holterman was not charged, according to the report.
There were other run-ins with the law.
In August 2004, Holterman pleaded guilty to second-degree burglary after he climbed onto the second-story balcony of a Hilton Head apartment and stole cash, according to an incident report.
He was returned to prison and released on parole again in 2005, Stone said.
In April 2006, he again violated parole after relatives of the two girls he was accused of sexually assaulting in 2000 caught him in their yard. An earlier court order of protection required him to stay away from the girls, their families, their homes and their workplaces.
He was sent back to prison.
His youthful-offender sentence expired in 2008, which meant he was no longer under the supervision of the state's Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services.
Following his July 16 arrest in Bluffton, he was taken to the county detention center, where he posted a $1,092 bond set by Magistrate's Judge Rod Sproatt according to court records.
Holterman was released the next day. He did not return several phone calls seeking comment.
If convicted of the peeping charge, a misdemeanor, Holterman faces up to three years in prison.
In addition, a judge could add him to the sex offender registry, Stone said.
Some think the peeping charges came too late.
Crystal Wilson, the mother of the Mill Creek girl Holterman is accused of spying on, has been distributing flyers with his mug shot and address.
"It's obvious he's a threat," she said. "He lives close to the pool, the playground. ... I'm not taking this lightly."
She worries about the potential for other victims.
"The fact that he has this history makes me sick," she said. "It seems like he's slipped through the cracks every time. I hope they take his whole history into account when they sentence him."
Wilson said she's checked the sex offender registry to find out where other local offenders live.
That registry, available online, is a necessary tool for the public to check their area for offenders, said Susan Cato, executive director of the Child Abuse Prevention Association. The nonprofit group offers community and school-based education programs focused on child-abuse prevention and intervention.
Cato said it's common for sexual offenders, especially pedophiles, to target and befriend adults with children.
She said the average pedophile has abused a child at least 70 times before being caught.
In Holterman's 2000 assault case, the Hilton Head girls told relatives Holterman had touched their "private parts" at least five times before he was arrested.
"Sadly, his case isn't out of the ordinary," Cato said. "The registry is a tool, but it doesn't replace preventative factors."
Cato praised the 8-year-old Mill Creek child for her quick response.
"That's what we want to happen. We want them to tell an adult they know and trust," she said.
Despite the attention Holterman is getting, Mill Creek residents say it's not enough.
On Thursday afternoon, Bob Vastola, a resident of the neighborhood and father of two, stood in front of Holterman's home with a neon-yellow sign that said "beware child predator."
The effort drew "thumbs-up" signs, cheers of "Amen" and supportive honks from passing motorists.
"I'm just trying to let neighbors know because there are people who still aren't aware of him," Vastola said. "Our neighborhood is full of kids. We just want to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else."