Parishioners Stand behind Their Pastor
Moore Charged with Sexual Assault on Teen
By Glenn Smith and Noah Haglund
Post and Courier [Charleston SC]
December 3, 2006
She was only 11. She'd been molested by a man who taught her to sing in the church choir. Her mother pleaded with a judge to lock him up. He will do it again, the mother warned.
Just two years later, the same man violated another girl. This victim was just 9. Another mother, another judge. But the message was the same: Please put this man behind bars.
Tyrone Moore did his second spell in prison - nine years, to be exact - and emerged as a passionate, self-styled preacher of the gospel.
He soon had a church in North Charleston and a family of his own. He moved into a $193,000 home, drove a Mercedes and watched his congregation grow to more than 1,000 people.
But authorities say Moore couldn't escape his demons and desires.
North Charleston police charged the enigmatic pastor Nov. 21 with sexually assaulting a 17-year-old male who attended his church. Detectives are investigating reports of additional victims, and more charges are possible, Detective Sgt. Jerry Jellico said.
The allegations have done little to tarnish Moore's image at Full Word Ministries, the Gordon Street church he founded upon his release from prison six years ago. To the contrary, congregation members are fiercely standing by their pastor, insisting that he is innocent and that the allegations are a test of faith.
At a Wednesday night Bible study, just two days after Moore posted bail and was released from jail, several dozen people filtered into the church to the thumping beat of gospel music. Most were women, many with elementary-school-age children in tow. They shook their heads or smiled when asked about the allegations.
"We're rejoicing because we know this is a trick of the enemy," one woman said.
Violations of trust
Moore, 39, has long known how to inspire the faithful.
As a young man he played organ at the Reformed House of God, the church his grandfather presided over in North Charleston's Accabee community. His grandfather, Bishop Aaron Moore, was a respected church leader, civil rights activist and Democratic precinct leader. The younger Moore directed a children's choir known as Tyrone and the Disciples.
While his grandfather looked on from the pulpit, Tyrone Moore would get the church moving with his music, said James Stuckey, his former lawyer.
"The whole congregation would start clapping and then, without missing a beat, he would slide over on that organ bench and start playing," Stuckey said. "He was an accomplished organist. The whole church would literally be rocking."
It was during this period in 1987 that Moore molested an 11-year-old choir member who been staying at his grandfather's house. Prosecutors said Moore slept in the same bed with the girl and convinced her to be quiet by promising marriage when she turned 18.
Moore maintained his innocence but pleaded guilty to the charge in February 1989. He spent 15 months in prison before returning to the community on supervised release. His probation mandated counseling and no contact with children.
Moore was still on probation when police arrested him in April 1991 for molesting a 9-year-old girl who sang in his church choir. Prosecutors said he had been sexually abusing the girl since she was 6. He reportedly taped her mouth shut and threatened to kill her if she told anyone about the attacks.
The girl's parents wanted Moore to go to prison for life after he pleaded guilty to the charges in September 1991. A judge handed him an 18-year prison term instead. Moore served half that time and became eligible for release, state records show.
State prosecutors sought to have him declared a sexually violent predator and committed indefinitely to a psychiatric institution for treatment. A judge dismissed the case, and Moore ended up on probation once again in August 2000.
A changed man?
Moore assumed the title of minister and founded Full Word Ministries. He began preaching to small groups of people at a hotel off Montague Avenue and soon had a steady following. Moore incorporated the church as a nonprofit in 2001, the same year he got married. His growing church relocated to its current home a year later, buying a 2.6-acre site across from Garrett Academy of Technology for $500,000, county records show.
Longtime church member Adrienne Frasier said people are drawn to Full Word by Moore's down-to-earth style of teaching and spreading the gospel. Moore has worked tirelessly to guide young people and help ex-convicts get a second chance in life, she said.
Frasier said many at the church know Moore has been to prison, but it doesn't matter. They trust him implicitly.
"I don't believe a word of what they are saying. That is how much faith I have in him," she said. "We are standing by our pastor 100 percent. I just pray that when the investigation is all over, the truth will come out."
Police launched the latest investigation after a church member accused Moore of forcing him to have oral sex on several occasions between January 2002 and December 2003.
The victim is now 21, police said. Investigators are also looking into allegations that Moore had inappropriate sexual contact with at least three other youths, Jellico said. Goose Creek police are assisting with the probe because some of the incidents reportedly occurred in their jurisdiction, he said.
Moore could not be reached for comment for this story, and his attorney, Eduardo Curry, did not return phone calls. Moore, a father of four, is no longer living with his family at their Goose Creek home, his wife told The Post and Courier. Erica Moore declined to say more.
Church officials barred reporters from entering Full Word Ministries on Wednesday. Worship-pers seemed upbeat but had little to say about their pastor as they filed inside.
"I'm just so excited," one woman said. "We can't wait to see him."
Authorities have expressed concern about Moore's return to the church and the possible chilling effect this could have upon alleged victims.
With this in mind, 9th Circuit Solicitor Ralph Hoisington said he expects prosecutors to try to resolve the case as soon as possible. No trial date has been set.
Anne Lee is president of Darkness to Light, a Charleston-based group that works to raise awareness about the sexual abuse of children. She said people are often unwilling to accept the notion that a trusted, beloved figure in the community could be capable of molesting children.
But pedophiles actively seek positions of trust and authority to gain access to children and avoid detection, she said.
"Denial is not uncommon. It's incredibly hard for people to wrap their heads around this," she said. "We want to believe it's always the nasty old guy in the trench coat in the park, but it's not."
On the Web
The national sex registry is online at www.nsopr.gov/
The South Carolina sex registry is online at services.sled.sc.gov/SOR/
Reach Glenn Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-5556.
Reach Noah Haglund at email@example.com or 937-5550.
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