A Victim's Voice Is Heard

By Richelle Bailey
McDowell News
October 29, 2010

Editor's note: It is The McDowell News' policy not to print the names of victims in sexual assault cases. However, this victim contacted reporters to tell her story and gave permission for her identity to be revealed.

Casie Rumfelt wanted someone to love her. One of her church officials honed in on that, she stated, preyed on her vulnerability and was eventually convicted of molesting her.

She was the victim of sexual assault at the hands of one of her fellow church-goers at New Manna. He volunteered as a boys' basketball coach and taught Sunday school. She was 14 and 15 at the time of the offenses, and he was 25 and 26, was married and had a little girl.

The suspect was charged in March 2004 and pleaded guilty in February 2005 to taking indecent liberties with a child. He was sentenced to 1 ½ years behind bars and is still registered as a sex offender today.

On the heels of the latest sexual assault allegations against a member of New Manna Baptist Church earlier this month, Rumfelt is choosing to speak out, tell her story and hopefully keep this from happening again.

"I just want to help somebody," she stated. "It's OK to come forward. It will be rough, but you will get through it."

Her naivety

Rumfelt, who is now 22, knows a thing or two about "getting through" the rough patches in life.

Her mother was murdered when Rumfelt was just 8 or 9 years old. She and her three siblings were taken in by their elderly grandparents. They have always done their best by their grandchildren, according to Rumfelt, but they weren't able to be directly involved in the youngsters' lives.

"I wasn't a random victim," she stated. "I didn't have a very stable home life. People like them pick us because we are emotionally unstable."

And that's exactly what the predator in Rumfelt's case did, she contends. She used to babysit the man's young daughter, and his wife was her volleyball coach.

She admits that she wanted someone to love her. That's where this man came in.

One day, after a church function, Rumfelt had no ride home, so he volunteered to take her. He said he had to make a quick stop by his house first, and he invited her inside.

"He told me how pretty I was," she stated. "I had never had anybody pay that much attention to me. He told me he knew I was going through some hard times and that he was here for me."

The same routine continued over and over and over. He always offered her a ride home and they stopped by his house, but what started as telling her she was pretty advanced to kissing then to fondling then to sexual intercourse, according to Rumfelt.

"I was 14 and I was naïve," she said. "Yes, I had a choice of saying yes or no to that man, but no 13-, 14- or 15-year-old should have to make that choice. He was supposed to be a leader in the church, a mentor and someone to look out for me, but, in his eyes, I was just a young, vulnerable girl that could be part of his sick, twisted life. He took something from me that I could never get back."

This game went on for months and months, and he became ever more obsessive and possessive. She was required to call him at certain hours, wasn't allowed to spend time with her friends and was forced to be everywhere he was.

"The people at New Manna had to know something was going on," she stated.

He became verbally abusive, said Rumfelt, and would berate her over the smallest things.

She had had enough and wanted it to stop.

Her confession

Rumfelt gathered enough nerve to go to Tony Shirley, the church's pastor and the school's principal, a month before all of the allegations came to light publicly.

But she never expected his response.

"I told Mr. Shirley that I was in a sexual relationship with a married man," she said. "He asked me a lot of questions, but he told me he didn't want to know who it was. He told me I really needed to think before I identified him because I would ruin his life."

Shirley, Rumfelt contends, forced her to go home and tell her grandparents what she had done.

"More or less, I was punished for coming forward," she stated. "I never told (Shirley) who it was."

When contacted by The McDowell News earlier this week, Shirley chose not to comment on the incident involving Rumfelt or the case that is currently pending against one of his assistant pastors.

Rumfelt spent much of her time at her best friend's house. They had all become like a second family to her.

During one of Rumfelt's mandated calls to the suspect in her case, her best friend's mom picked up the phone and heard him scolding the teen. That raised enough red flags that the woman questioned Rumfelt and she came clean about the relationship.

She took the teen to the Sheriff's Office and an investigation ensued.

"If she hadn't taken me to the Sheriff's Office, I would never have told because I tried to tell someone earlier and I was told not to ruin his life," Rumfelt stated. "I didn't want to ruin his life. I cared about him, and I thought he cared about me. I'm glad Mr. Shirley was ignorant about it because it would have been kept in the church."

Next came the suspect's arrest. But that meant a lot of the teen's problems were just beginning.

Her punishment

"As if my world wasn't turned upside down enough, by me coming forward, I was kicked out of the Christian school I had attended since the third grade and banned from all church activities," she said.

Even though she wasn't allowed to participate in any events, she still attended New Manna Baptist Church. She spent her 11th-grade year at McDowell High.

"The older kids (at New Manna) gave me a hard time," she said. "My grandmother just wanted it to go away. She never blamed it on me, but she never took up for me either."

She stated that Shirley never gave her a reason behind the suspension.

"You would think that after the leaders and members of that congregation found out the things that happened, they would find (the perpetrator in her abuse) at fault, but that was not the case," said Rumfelt. "The blame was placed on me. I was the bad guy instead of the victim."

She was shunned by many of the church-goers.

"Not one of the leaders in that church asked me if I was OK or bothered to come and visit," she said. "I was born and raised in that church, but because I wasn't 'a man of God' my well being didn't matter. The whole time it was 'We need to pray for that man and his family. They are really going through it right now.' Well, what about me? What was I going through?"

Rumfelt was allowed to attend New Manna Christian Academy her senior year and graduate.

"I was excited," she said. "New Manna is all I ever knew. I wanted to graduate with the people I had gone to school with all my life."

Since her ordeal seven years ago, Rumfelt has remained in the background. Very few people have ever heard her story. But she decided that would change one Wednesday night earlier this month.

Her message

Rumfelt no longer attends New Manna Baptist Church but did visit on one occasion in October on an invite from a friend.

It just happened to be the evening that Shirley stood up in front of the congregation and announced that police had arrested Michael Eugene Pearson, 30, of Marion on charges related to a sexual relationship with an underage female relative. Pearson was the bus director at New Manna and also an assistant pastor.

Pearson, according to Rumfelt, was the one who informed the congregation that the suspect in her case had been arrested.

"Mr. Shirley kept asking everyone to pray for Michael and his family, but he never once mentioned the victim," she stated. "It infuriated me, so I decided I wasn't going to let it happen again. It's not her fault."

For Rumfelt, it was déjà vu. She said she left the church that night and made the decision that she would no longer keep quiet.

"They are cowards and hypocrites," she added. "They preach that you are not to sin then they do it. You can't be godly and a pedophile at the same time."

New Manna's problems will continue, Rumfelt contends, until the leaders take a stand.

"The leadership needs to step up and say 'Something's not right,' instead of 'This is the devil's work,'" she stated. "If the proper precautions had been taken with my situation then it would have been stopped earlier and Michael's situation wouldn't have happened."

Rumfelt knows the victim in Pearson's case and has talked to her via e-mail.

"Don't back down, don't let anyone talk you into giving up and don't ever think this is your fault," she advises the teen. "I didn't ask for this and neither did you. The members of this community don't need to let this get swept under the rug like it's not a big deal because it is."

She added that she was too afraid to take up for herself seven years ago, but she's not now.

"I will stand for myself and the other victims that have fallen prey to sexual abuse," she said. "Consensual or not, I was still a victim and so are you."

Rumfelt urges parents to keep the lines of communication open with their children.

"I told people I didn't want to talk about it, but I really did," she stated. "People should talk to their kids. It lets them know they can tell you anything. The more you are involved in your children's lives, the better it is. Don't ever assume that the adults in authority won't do or didn't do what your child says they did."

Her advice to the children: "You don't have to do something you don't feel is right just because an authority figure says so. I don't want someone to go through this just because they want to be loved."

Since this ordeal, love and trust haven't come easy.

Her strength

Despite her history with New Manna, Rumfelt stated, her faith in God and his power couldn't be stronger.

"I haven't found a church I'm comfortable with, but I wish I could find one," she stated. "I'm skeptical of everybody, but I still believe in God and I'm saved. I never blamed God for what happened."

As a matter of fact, as this point in her life, she said she doesn't blame anyone.

"I have forgiven everybody," Rumfelt stated. "I'm over it. I just don't want someone else's to be covered up and that person have to go through what I went through. I love that church and I love the people, but I don't love what goes on there."

Today, Rumfelt has overcome some of the adversity and she's done it with the help of God and her friends, she said. She's never been to a counselor.

She works, she helps care for her grandparents and her handicapped younger sister, she watches over her other siblings and she has found the true love for which she has longed. She's been dating a guy for nearly eight months and said he's likely the one she will someday marry.

"I still have trust issues," she said. "(The man who sexually abused her) took things from me that I will never get back. I am skeptical of authority figures. But this incident made me a better person. I know what I want when I have a family. I would never want to go through this again, but it made me grow up."

She added that, the older she gets, the better she can put things into perspective.

"As I have gotten older, I have realized that I couldn't have made the right decisions when I was 14 or 15," Rumfelt stated. "I keep telling myself that it's not my fault."

In fact, she said, it's who she is.

"It has made me a stronger person," she stated. "It has been an emotional road, but had I not been through it, I wouldn't be as smart about certain things as I am today. It has made me who I am and I'm not ashamed of that."

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