Voluteer's Arrest Surprises Nb Church

By Susan Henderson
The World

December 2, 2008

NORTH BEND - There were no warning signs with Damon Noel. At least none that the Rev. Rich LaMar could detect.

“He was favorably thought of in the church,” LaMar said. “He didn’t appear to be anything more than a wonderful person.”

On Friday, North Bend police arrested Noel, 22, on charges of third-degree rape, contributing to the sexual delinquency of a minor, third-degree sex abuse, endangering the welfare of a minor and sexual misconduct.

Noel’s alleged victim, a teenage girl, was a fellow member of College Park Community Church in North Bend. They met at a vacation Bible school at the church this past summer.

LaMar said his first impression of Noel was that he was extremely respectful, wearing a tie to church and using plenty of “Yes, sirs” and “No, sirs.” A native of Mississippi, Noel had joined the U.S. Coast Guard, and was stationed in Charleston. (According to Lt. Greg Mouritsen, the Coast Guard’s local public affairs officer, Noel was discharged in early November.)

Noel first attended College Park in August, and the next month asked if he could volunteer with the church’s youth group.

LaMar saw no reason to turn down the offer. The group meets every Thursday night, with a husband and wife team who serve as youth leaders. There also is an ordained associate pastor who usually attends, too. LaMar said Noel played a very small role.

“He had no official authority,” LaMar said. “He was really just an extra helper.”

According to Oregon Revised Statue 163.355, “A person commits the crime of rape in the third degree if the person has sexual intercourse with another person under 16 years of age.” Noel was scheduled to be in court this morning on a continuation of his arraignment.

Officer Jon Bohanan of the North Bend Police Department, who helped arrest Noel, said several sources told him Noel had a leadership position in the church.

LaMar said it isn’t true.

“The church did not recognize him as a leader,” he said. “We hadn’t even mentioned the process of ministry.”

In his capacity as a volunteer, Noel never spent time alone with any of the children and never drove with a youth by himself, LaMar said, a policy all church volunteers, as well as employees, follow.

Even if Noel didn’t have a leadership role, Bohanan said he believes the 22-year-old got involved with the youth group to get access to his victim.

According to state court records, Noel was previously convicted on a charge of providing false information to a police officer and put into a diversion program on a charge of possession of marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school in October.

There wasn’t a formal interview process to become a volunteer, though LaMar said he had talked with Noel about his criminal background. He knew about the marijuana incident, though he hadn’t been told about the false information charge.

If Noel had asked to have a leadership role in the church, LaMar said there would have been much closer inspection of his past.

“We do have a safety protocol in place,” he said. “I don’t know if we could have avoided this.”

A forensic interviewer and child advocate for the Women’s Safety and Resource Center’s Children’s Advocacy Program, Michelle Nicolaus, said her office handles about 150 cases a year and the child almost always knows her molester.

“If the person is outside the family, it is usually someone who has gained the parents’ and child’s trust,” she said.

In general, a molester will target a large group of children, then determine who recoils at advances and who responds favorably.

“Eventually they get so involved with the offender, (the victim) feels they are responsible for doing something wrong,” she said. “They think, ‘He’s the adult. He should know what’s right and what’s wrong.’”

She said molesters often victimize hundreds of children, simply because they don’t get caught.

“Kids typically don’t tell,” she said. “It’s the exception when they do.”

One reason for this is because children often consider a molester a friend.

Nicolaus couldn’t say if these generalities apply to Noel.

LaMar said the youth at College Park still consider Noel a friend and are upset he is in jail.

At this point, LaMar said it is important to provide support to the girl, her family and all the girls in the church to make sure they know how to avoid sexual overtures. He also said the church would review its policies for accepting volunteers.

“People who are helping will realize it’s a big deal to us,” he said. “We do hold the safety of our kids and our church in high regard.”


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