Lives Turned Upside down When Family Learns Church Youth Minister Allegedly Abused Child

By Lisa Shrewsberry
The Register-Herald
May 16, 2012

"I have a very bitter taste in my mouth for the justice system," says Kathy Smith (not her real name), a resident of southern W.Va., a well-spoken professional, a mom and a grandmother. Eight years ago on July 4th, while families picnicked and readied their amateur fireworks displays, the personal equivalent of a bomb dropped, an impact from which all involved are still picking up the pieces, some too fragmented for human hands to hold.

That was the day Kathy's pastor revealed to her his strong suspicion that a trusted member of the church where her family attended, a youth minister, had been sexually abusing her son, possibly for years. The man, ultimately indicted on charges of sexual abuse but yet to be tried in court, was a triple threat of the worst kind: An upstanding, trusted member of the community, a man boasting connections to popular political figures and one who claimed to have the highest possible connection on his side God.

"As a parent you trust very much a person in leadership over your children when you are in church." What bothers this mother most is her mental rearview, one that plays in reverse when she sits in her office during downtime, pointing out to her signs of the seriously wrong, now as clear as day, but too remote to help her son.

Kathy fell prey to the guise of friendship and mentorship assumed by the man who she says abused her boy for six years, from the age of 10. She noticed he took a strong interest in her child, buying him gifts, at times expensive ones. He would ask permission for them to take trips and golfing expeditions together. One time, the man called Kathy for her blessing to let him buy her son a set of golf clubs. When she began to object at the act of intensifying and unsolicited generosity, he softened his actions by saying they were an "inexpensive set."

He bought the boy a laptop and claimed to be mentoring him in computer programming. Kathy's son spent more and more time with the offender alone, learning the trade of computers, she thought, or other beneficent lessons in growing up and becoming a man. All along, abuse went undetected behind a veil of imparted personal and spiritual enrichment.

Like the time the accused took her son on a supposed international missions trip. At one point in time, he had a notarized document of custody for the abused, along with the unwitting parents' consent. "When they went out of the country, I had to give him guardianship over my son or he couldn't go."

While her son lacked stark signs of personality change at the onset of the abuse, the infiltration the pedophile had achieved, and the firm vise grip on his being, were certain. "The difficulties we had were them not wanting to be apart."

Kathy knew something wasn't right when her most effective mode of punishment, the one that received the most protest, was to take his cell phone (which the alleged offender had bought) and cut off contact with the man who by all outward appearances was the embodiment of biblical salt and light. "We grounded him from having contact for two weeks and it hadn't been three days until my phone rang at work and it was (the alleged offender), asking is there any way you can lift your son's punishment?" The man's wife even called Kathy, pleading for her to pardon her son and allow the man and boy time together. "She says to me, 'please let him come back so (my husband) will stop bugging me.'"

It was trust run amok but it would be the word of truth the youth leader so often hid behind that would expose his alleged deeds. "The (lead) pastor's wife was teaching my son's class out of first Samuel, where it talks about the love that Jonathan had for David. My son told his teacher in a way that threw up a red flag to her, 'That's the type of love (the youth pastor) and I have for each other.'" Chills ran up the instructor's spine. It wasn't long after the pastor's wife brought her apprehensions to Kathy that the lead pastor confirmed the worst of them. Authorities were called to investigate, and in spring 2006 a grand jury indicted the man on charges of sexual abuse, finding that there was sufficient evidence for him to be brought to trial.

"After the fact, we started pulling out bags from under my son's bed. All this stuff started coming out, things he'd bought my son and we're like, 'Where did that come from?' It lined up a whole wall in our living room. We had to put the gifts in different groupings for the investigators.

"I didn't see anything wrong at first. A pedophile is very manipulative, very brainwashing." There were also things said to her son, things he revealed after extensive counseling later that unearthed a dangerous, compelling characteristic in the adult offender, and one confirmed to exist in those like him. "When you think about a pedophile, their whole logic is 'nothing is ever going to happen to me.' Sad thing is, the majority of the time, that is true."

It has been almost eight years since the devastating revelation. Kathy's son graduated, entered the military and moved to another state. Kathy says he finds it difficult to follow anything he begins through to completion. For mom and for son, there is no rest, no closure.

The indicted man also relocated with his family. To her dismay, Kathy says she believes he has taken a position with another church in Virginia. After years of weekly, frustrating calls to hasten the case to trial, Kathy doesn't hold out hope that he will pay for his actions, at least in this life.

"I have come to terms with it. Scripture says that for anyone who will hurt a child, it is better that a millstone hang around their neck and they be cast into the sea than to stand before God. I believe in hell and stages of fire, and I believe he will burn in a very hot flame for eternity and that's the only thing that gets me through.

"Don't trust anybody where your child is concerned. People are trusting to a fault. We shouldn't trust anybody entirely not even the clergy. That's just sad, but it's true."

The warning signs Kathy promotes in her advocacy now to other parents, ones she wishes she'd heeded herself include: A noticeable change in behavior of a child, whether slight or severe; An inordinate dependency on a person or extended one-on-one time with that person; Gifts sent to the child, especially multiple gifts from an unrelated adult, or unaccounted for merchandise, obvious or hidden, in the child's room.

"A child should not have one-on-one time with a (non-parental) adult. There should always be two adults at all times," she expresses.



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