Under the radar: A cop’s 20-year secret exposed in northwest Arkansas, Part 1

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NORTHWEST ARKANSAS- The case of a teacher being raped at an elementary school in northwest Arkansas had grown cold.

More than 20 years had gone by, and so had the lead after lead and dead end after dead end.

Until another terrifying moment shattered that corner of the state and, in the process, unearthed secrets that a former law enforcement officer kept hidden for two decades.

Today, Frank Tillery Elementary in Rogers is surrounded by chain-linked fences with locks firmly in place. Un-welcomed visitors are stopped at the door.

But, things were a little different back in November of 1997. And, on one unsuspecting day, the school became the backdrop to one teacher’s nightmare.

It was a Sunday morning. 

Amy Harrison was at the school to complete some lesson plans for the week ahead. A church service was being held in the school’s cafeteria. 

All around the building things were relatively quiet. The silence turned to terror as Amy walked out of a bathroom in the teacher’s lounge to find a man pointing a gun at her, telling her to undress.

The fear can be heard in Amy’s voice as she called 911 in the moments after the man had sexually assaulted her.

“I went to the bathroom in the lounge, and when I opened the door a guy was standing there with a gun,” Amy says during her phone call to 911. “He told me to turn around and get down on the floor. He made me take off all my clothes…I was just molested at my school.”

Crime scene tape and police cars soon surrounded the school. The man with a gun seemingly disappeared almost as fast as he had shown up.

“At the time this crime happened, Rogers was a much smaller place than it is now,” Nathan Smith says.

Smith is currently the prosecuting attorney for Benton County, who prosecuted this case in 2017.

Amy Harrison, the young teacher who had just been sexually assaulted, was married to a Rogers police officer at the time. Her phone call to 911 lasted just a few minutes

“OK, did you get a description?” the dispatcher can be heard asking Amy.

“I just got an initial glance, he wouldn’t let me look at him,” Amy says fighting back tears on the phone during that 1997 call. “And, he said ‘Be quiet.’”

She described the attacker as a man wearing a ski cap and sunglasses. She says he ambushed her as she stepped out of that bathroom in the teacher’s lounge. Investigators would later say Amy was sexually assaulted in two different rooms in the school before the man left.

“She was trying to memorize the face, the voice, everything about her attacker,” Smith says. “And, [she] was trying to preserve whatever evidence she could.”

Preserved evidence would later play a key role in this case. But, in those first few hours at the crime scene, which was documented on a grainy, VHS tape, police detectives would realize how much of an uphill battle they were facing to make an arrest.

“You had a universe of at least a couple hundred people who were at that church meeting, and so, they had to eliminate many, many, many people,” Smith says. “There were several people the Rogers Police Department looked at who checked some boxes.”

But, not enough boxes were checked. Over the next 20 years, the Rogers Police Department would watch the case grow cold. All they had was a sketch of the suspect and DNA without a match – until terror struck again 20 years later in a town just 15 miles away, and a man with a law enforcement background would become the prime suspect.

“It is a terrifying thing,” Smith says.

“And, I think it’s proof that there is evil in the world and that people can fool you.”

Part 2 of this story will be released on KARK.com on Monday, April 29.

Watch Part 1 and 2 on KARK 4 News at 10 April 30 and May 1.

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