The Omega Fire Ministry Worldwide has barred members from making further comments or statements on the alleged sexual relationship involving its overseer, Johnson Suleman.
In a statement issued by the Directorate of Media, the church said commentaries on the matter had overstayed their relevance and the members should no longer allow themselves be distracted by it.
“It has become imperative that we advise all Omega Children and Christians Worldwide to put an end to the ongoing media war that we have engaged in,” the church said in the statement seen by PREMIUM TIMES.
“Every wise person would know that this is not a battle of humans but one between the Kingdom of God and that of darkness.
“Therefore, nobody is permitted further to issue a statement or comment on the matter. All Facebook Live Videos on the issue should also stop forthwith. It is advised that we spend our time concentrating on more relevant issues that bothers on the Kingdom.
“We are well aware were all these are coming from and we will deal with it spiritually.”
The statement came just as a second lady, who identified herself as Queen Esther, came forward on Sunday to speak about an alleged sexual relationship with Mr. Suleman (popularly known as Apostle Suleman).
For the most of last week, Mr. Suleman and a Canada-based singer, Stephanie Otobo, traded accusations over allegations of sexual affair, forceful abortion of pregnancy, and breach of marriage promise.
On Sunday, Mr. Suleman’s spokesperson, Phrank Shaibu, declined further comments on the matter.
But in several videos posted online by Celebration TV, the church’s television arm, Mr. Suleman told his congregation that those behind the allegations would be destroyed within 24 hours.
One of the videos was uploaded on You Tube on Saturday.
“God just told me something. And in 24 hours, marine will be disgraced publicly. Marine…I’m not just prophesying on you, I’m prophesying on myself. In 24 hours, the truth will be exposed,” Mr. Suleman told his church members amidst cheers.
“In 24 hours, the marine kingdom will be disappointed. Kingdom of the water and their representatives, that made themselves available tool will be disgraced. And they shall know that it’s the ‘I am that I am’ that sent me.
“We don’t fight with our mouth; we fight with our knees. We can’t do certain things and still carry the anointing that we carry, no we don’t do that nonsense.
“If I’m true or not true, real or not real, 24 hours. I’m tough mehn, I’m tough. You don’t see me preaching? Do I look shaky? Do I look worried? Get a better agent.
“If the devil wants people to start doubting you, he attacks your reputation. We know this.
Johnson Suleman, the controversial Nigerian pastor at the center of an adultery scandal gave a $76,000 brand-new Mercedes-Benz 450 GL to Nollywood star Daniella Okeke in 2016, an official Lagos State website shows.
Ms. Okeke was previously named by Stephanie Otobo, Apostle Suleman’s estranged lover, as being one of the other women in his life.
For her part, the actress in 2016 proudly displayed the Mercedes-Benz SUV GL 450 on her Instagram page in front of a brand-new house where she parked it.
After her name was revealed by Ms. Otobo at a press conference covered extensively by Saharareporters, some Nigerians invaded Ms. Okeke’s Instagram questioning the source of her wealth given that she has not featured in any prominent movies in recent years.
The more inquisitive among them took advantage of a new website for vehicle registration in Lagos State which unveils the ownership of any vehicles by its number due to a bug on the webpage, and discovered that one of Ms. Okeke’s most prized possessions, the posh Mercedes-Benz car, is registered to “Apostle Suleman Johnson.”
This discovery is the second window into the pastor’s private life following the one opened by Ms. Otobo, but he has vigorously denied the amorous relationship she claims to have had with him.
Last week, Ms. Otobo was arrested and detained by Apostle Suleman, who procured some federal police officers to rough up the woman. She was behind bars for a few nights.
Ms. Otobo had insisted that Apostle Suleman impregnated her following sex romps in Italy, New York and Nigeria. The pastor denied the allegations and threatened to sue SaharaReporters for reporting the story.
In a rebuttal on Friday, the law office denied that Mr. Keyamo, its Head of Chambers, was actively involved in the matter, as he has been in Abuja. It described the pastor’s allegations of a conspiracy against him as pathetic, ludicrous and a nonsensical smokescreen.
Among others, the chambers revealed that the pastor paid millions into Ms. Otobo’s account and that it has pictures of him exposing his private parts, evidence of which it said would emerge in court. It also stated that other victims of the pastor have started to come forward to tell their stories, armed with proof.
Authorities have arrested a 47-year-old pastor after searching his Pine City home and a Cottage Grove church during a child pornography investigation.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension says William Leonard Helker was arrested Wednesday at his home on the 15000 block of Copper Canyon Road in Pine City.
The arrest came after BCA agents with the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force executed search warrants on October 26, at Helker’s home and All Saints Lutheran Church in Cottage Grove, where Helker is a pastor.
Helker was arrested without incident and was booked into the Pine County Jail on suspicion of possessing pornography involving minors, the BCA said.
Members of the church say they found out about the arrest via email Wednesday night.
They say Helker worked with kids conducting first communion and confirmation classes, but worked with adults as well.
“Is this pretty startling to hear this? Oh yes, oh yes. I’m really shocked, really shocked. He’s an up front guy, has always been since he started preaching there, and I really liked him, really like him. I see him at social events too, he comes to social events we have through the church,” says church member James Corbin.
All Saints Lutheran Church released a statement saying, “We are aware of the arrest of William Helker and he was placed on administrative leave yesterday. We are concerned and ask prayers for all affected and will cooperate fully with law enforcement. We are committed to providing safe spaces for all children and youth at All Saints and in the community.”
Today, Helker pleaded guilty to the distribution of child pornography, including photographs of church children. KSTP Channel 5 reports:
A former Cottage Grove pastor pleaded guilty in federal court to distribution of child pornography Thursday.
Forty-seven-year-old William Leonard Helker of Pine City was arrested in October at his home. The arrest came after Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agents with the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force executed a search warrant at his home and All Saints Lutheran Church in Cottage Grove.
The agency was tipped off by Facebook and Instagram that a user was suspected of possessing child porn.
Investigators said they found Helker communicated with a man in Finland, planning to trade images of preteen and teenage girls, according to the criminal complaint.
The photo involved two pre-pubescent girls as young as 5 and a pubescent man engaging in sexual acts.
According to court documents, Helker admitted in his plea he had conversations about his sexual interest in children, had more than 900 child porn images and 300 child porn videos in his possession, “including images of prepubescent minors under the age of 12 and depictions of sadistic and masochistic abuse.”
Helker admitted to investigators he took the photos of four minors who attended church events and edited their photos on to adult porn images. He said the photos he created were “in the hundreds.”
A former youth pastor from Cottage Grove is sentenced to more than 12 years in prison for distribution of child pornography.
William Helker, 47, pleaded guilty to one count of distribution of child pornography in March. A U.S. District Court judge sentenced Helker to 150 months in prison last week, along with 15 years of supervised release.
A youth pastor out of Cottage Grove will serve a federal prison sentence after distributing child pornography. William Leonard Helker, 47, pleaded guilty on March 3, to one count of distribution of child pornography. On July 27, United States District Judge Patrick J. Schiltz sentenced Helker to 150 months in federal prison and 15 years of supervised release.
“Helker is a dangerous child predator who disguised himself as a youth pastor. Instead of providing guidance to young people, he used his position as a trusted leader to prey upon them,” said Assistant United States Attorney Katharine Buzicky in a statement.
“This child sexual exploitation case originated in Finland with the arrest there of another child predator,” said J. Alex Khu, special agent in charge of HSI Saint Paul.
According to the defendant’s guilty plea and documents filed in court, on October 22, 2016, Homeland Security Investigations and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension received a cybertip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children indicating that a Minnesota man exchanged child pornography with and individual in Finland.
The cybertip was listed as “Priority 1” because NCMEC assessed that children were currently in danger. Through a joint investigation, BCA and HSI agents were able to identify the Minnesota man as William Helker, a youth pastor at All Saints Lutheran Church in Cottage Grove.
Paul Hanniford, pastor of Pentecostal City Mission Church in Kingston, Jamaica, received a 20 year prison sentence for having sex with a 13-year-old church girl. The St. Lucia Times reports:
Pastor Reverend Paul Hanniford of the Pentecostal City Mission Church was convicted by a seven-member jury, on January 24 of having sexual intercourse with a minor.
According to Office of the Director of Public Prosecution, the complainant, who is now 15 years old, testified in court that on March 12, 2015, she and her five-year-old brother went to the church for choir practice and after the rehearsal, they asked Pastor Hanniford for a drive out in his van.
The pastor took the children to his house in Kingston where he sexually assaulted the girl.
According to the evidence presented to the court, after the incident, the pastor gave them some cornflakes to eat and later warned the complainant not to tell anyone as it was their “secret”.
In his defense at the trial, the pastor denied having sexual intercourse with the complainant and said that he had given the children a drive out but not on the day in question.
David Boyd, pastor of Wheelwright Baptist Center (link no longer active) in Wheelwright, Kentucky, was arrested and charged with “distribution of matter portraying sex performance by a minor.” LEX18.com reports:
The former pastor of Wheelwright Baptist Church has been arrested and charged with distribution of matter portraying sex performance by a minor.
David Boyd was arrested Friday morning at 9:08 a.m.
Boyd is still listed as the Director of Wheelwright Baptist Church, but we are told that he recently stepped away as pastor. Neighbors say that he stepped down around the time they saw police raiding his home and taking computers.
According to the Wheelwright Baptist Center website: (link no longer active)
David and Stephanie Boyd are the new directors of the former Kentucky Baptist Convention-owned ministry center in the Floyd County community of Wheelwright. A native of Wheelwright, David Boyd said his “spiritual mentor” was longtime center director and NAMB missionary, Charles Wilson. The Appalachian headquarters of World Servants, a ministry with its roots in Youth for Christ, will be headquartered at the ministry center. Stephanie Boyd directs World Servants Appalachian initiative
Wheelwright Baptist is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Last week, Benjamin Nelson, pastor of Peoria Baptist Church (link no longer active) in Hillsboro, Texas was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl. The Star-Telegram reports:
A man who leads a small Baptist church and is attending seminary in Waco was arrested Monday and faces child sexual assault charges.
Benjamin William Nelson, 28, was arrested at his home and booked into the Hill County Jail. He was being held Sunday on two charges of aggravated sexual assault of a child and one charge of deadly conduct, according to Whitney police.
Whitney police told Fox4News a mother found Nelson in a car with her underage daughter in a Whitney shopping center late Sunday. Police said the deadly conduct charge stems from Nelson driving recklessly near the teen’s mother as he left the scene.
According to Nelson’s Facebook page, he is married, is pastor of Peoria Baptist Church and is attending George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University.
A local pastor who was arrested by the Whitney Police Department Monday, February 27, on charges of sexual assault of a child is facing two new charges.
Benjamin William Nelson, 27, of Waco, who was pastor of Peoria Baptist Church at the time of his arrest, was initially facing two charges of sexual assault of a child and one charge of deadly conduct.
On Thursday, March 2, Whitney Police filed two new charges on Nelson.
Whitney Police Chief Chris Bentley said that charges of indecency with a child and online solicitation of a minor were added.
Justice of the Peace Shane Brassell set bonds totaling $755,000 on Nelson on the initial charges.
Bonds totaling $50,000 were added on the two new charges.
Bentley said that additional charges are pending, and Nelson’s electronic devices have been sent to a Waco facility for investigation.
The chief added that police are concerned Nelson may have had contact with other children online.
As of today, Nelson is still listed as the pastor of Peoria Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist congregation. According to Nelson’s about page: (link no longer active)
Rev. Ben Nelson was born and raised in deep east Texas, behind the pine curtain, in Center, Texas. He was dedicated, baptized, licensed, married, and ordained by the First Baptist Church of Center, where he met his wife Casey. Ben earned undergraduate degrees at the University of Texas at Austin, and Casey earned undergraduate degrees at Baylor University.
From 2011 to 2016 Ben served as a Campus Pastor with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Texas A&M University. He’s preached revivals, coordinated evangelism campaigns, led overseas mission trips, planted new Bible studies, and equipped generations of college students to follow Jesus faithfully for the rest of their lives.
In 2016 Ben and Casey felt the Lord calling Ben to begin in the pastorate and begin coursework on his Masters of Divinity degree at Baylor’s Truett Seminary. He came to us in view of a call in August of 2016, and he’s been preaching the Word to our congregation ever since.
Ben serves as a leader among equals, and works alongside the deacons and the congregation to see Christ’s Kingdom come, and Christ’s will done in our church and our community.
Serving life without parole in the Monroe County murder of his second wife and 20 to 40 years in the Lebanon County murder of his first wife, a former Jackson Township pastor continues to challenge the validity of the jury’s conviction in the Monroe case.
Monroe County President Judge Margherita Patti Worthington will issue a ruling at a future date on a petition filed by Arthur Schirmer, the 68-year-old former pastor at Reeders United Methodist Church, and heard in court Monday. Schirmer, whose ultimate goal is to have the Monroe County conviction thrown out so he can win a new trial, states in his petition that the jury was prejudiced by prosecutorial information and statements his attorney at the time ineffectively challenged.
Schirmer was married to first wife Jewel Schirmer, 50, for 31 years until her 1999 death in their home in Lebanon County, where he was pastor at Bethany United Methodist Church at the time.
Arthur Schirmer claimed he came home from jogging to find Jewel dead, at the bottom of their basement steps, with her head lying in a pool of blood and a vacuum cord wrapped around one of her feet. Since it appeared to authorities at the time that she had gotten her foot tangled in the vacuum cord, tripped, fallen and hit her head, her death was ruled accidental.
By late 2001, two years after Jewel Schirmer’s death, Arthur Schirmer was a pastor at the Reeders church and married to the former Betty Jean Shertzer.
On July 16, 2008, Betty Jean died at Lehigh Valley Hospital from a head injury received in a crash the day before in Tannersville.
Arthur Schirmer claimed he was driving her to what’s now Lehigh Valley Hospital-Pocono, after she awoke complaining of jaw pain that morning, when a deer ran out in front of them on Route 715. He said Betty Jean at the time had unbuckled her seat belt to shift position in the front passenger seat.
Schirmer said he hit a guard rail when swerving to avoid the deer, causing the unbuckled Betty Jean to be thrown forward and hit her head against the windshield. Though emergency personnel initially thought her head injury looked too severe to have been caused by such an apparently low-impact crash (according to prosecution witness trial testimony), her death was ruled an accident as Jewel Schirmer’s had been.
In October 2008, three months after Betty Jean’s death, church member Joseph Musante committed suicide by gunshot in Arthur Schirmer’s church office. A subsequent letter from Musante’s sister, Rosemarie Cobb, prompted police to further investigate Betty Jean’s death and learn Schirmer was previously married to a woman who likewise had died from a head injury.
Police learned also that Musante had found out about an affair between his wife, Cynthia Moyer, and Schirmer. What the prosecution calls an “affair” was an “emotional relationship” that developed between Schirmer and Moyer, who had been unhappy in her marriage, according to defense witness trial testimony.
Using luminol, a chemical which glows in the dark when coming into contact with traces of blood on surfaces, police found blood drops in Schirmer’s garage.
This led police to believe Schirmer hit Betty Jean in the head in the couple’s garage, placed her into their vehicle’s front passenger seat and then staged the crash out on Route 715. Schirmer said the blood came from a woodpile that fell on and cut Betty Jean in the garage.
Schirmer was charged with first-degree murder, convicted by a trial jury and sentenced in 2013 to life without parole.
The Monroe County case prompted Lebanon County authorities to reopen and further investigate Jewel Schirmer’s death, after which Arthur Schirmer was charged with murder in the Lebanon case. He pleaded no contest to third-degree murder, which meant he wasn’t admitting guilt but had decided not to fight the case, and was sentenced in 2014 to 20 to 40 years in prison.
Schirmer’s recently filed petition, heard in court Monday, challenges the Monroe County conviction, stating the jury was prejudiced by prosecutorial information and statements Brandon Reish, his attorney at the time, was ineffective in challenging.
A Rhode Island pastor who also is chairman of the Republican Party in Providence has been accused of molesting a boy over six years.
Roy D. Bolden Jr. was arraigned Wednesday on child molestation and sexual assault charges. Providence Police Sgt. Philip Hart says the 33-year-old pastor, an apostle of the Legions of Christ Ministries, will likely face more charges after the case moves to the attorney general’s office.
Messages were left seeking comment from Bolden’s Providence church.
City Police Maj. David Lapatin says a 21-year-old man told police Friday that he met Bolden at the church and that Bolden began sexually molesting him when he was 12 years old.
Lapatin says police are distributing a photo of Bolden and meeting with church members to determine if there are more alleged victims.
The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.
Ronnie Hyde, 60, was arrested Tuesday in the 1994 murder of 16-year-old Fred Laster and the FBI began searching his Jacksonville Beach home, as well as a property of his on Jacksonville’s Eastside.
For more than two decades, Laster was known as “John Doe” to investigators looking into his death. His dismembered body was recovered behind a dumpster on Highway 441 near Interstate 10 on June 5, 1994.
Authorities credited advancements in technology, increased exposure from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the assignment of a fresh detective to the cold case unit with the recent break in the case.
“All it takes is that one spark of information that can lead to an arrest,” Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter said.
Local FBI Special Agent in Charge Charles Spencer asked the public for help as the case continues, saying Hyde traveled abroad, was “a named subject in a previous child exploitation case” and had access to numerous children over the years.
Hyde, who lists his employment as a licensed mental health counselor at Crosswater Community Church in Nocatee, previously worked as a youth pastor at Strength for Living Church in Jacksonville where he first met Laster’s family.
Rev. Jack Millwood of Hyde’s current church issued a statement: “We are working and cooperating fully with the FBI in their investigation of Ron Hyde. I am personally not aware of any victims of Ron Hyde that involve anyone associated with Crosswater. If any person or persons has any information regarding potential victims of Ron Hyde, please contact the local FBI office.”
A neighbor watching the flurry of law enforcement activity at Hyde’s Jacksonville Beach home said there was something about the place always made her uneasy as did Hyde.
“It was always a house we skipped when we went trick-or-treating,” the neighbor said.
A similar search took place throughout the day at a second home on Thelma Street in Jacksonville. Spencer said agents will continue an extensive search of the homes, but would not disclose what exactly investigators are looking for.
“The search could take several days and no stone will be left unturned, I can assure you of that,” Spencer said, asking residents for patience during the process.
Hunter said investigators met with Laster’s family in November 2015 to collect his siblings’ DNA samples, building a profile that they could possibly match with the DNA taken from the torso found in 1994. Three months later, lab tests confirmed the remains and Laster’s family members were related.
A match still left the case unsolved. A second DNA profile recovered from a flannel shirt found near the torso in 1994 had no match in a law enforcement database. But last April, investigators sifted through trash cans outside Hyde’s home and retrieved nasal swabs containing DNA that was also matched to the flannel shirt.
“I am extremely proud of the detectives who worked on this extremely difficult case,” Hunter said. “… It has allowed the family to have some closure.”
The sheriff demurred when asked whether there was a sexual nature to the case. Still, court records show Laster’s sister told authorities she and her brother had spent the night at Hyde’s home a year before he went missing and that she woke up to find Hyde nude and trying to quietly wake her brother.
Laster’s siblings said they confronted Hyde numerous times over the years, and each time he seemed to provide a different version of events regarding Laster’s disappearance. In one breath Hyde told the siblings he had dropped Laster off near Pecan Park, in another breath he said it was in the Oceanway area and in another still he said he’d taken Laster to their grandmother’s house in Nassau County.
Eventually, Lasters’ siblings gave up trying to get answers from Hyde. They said they last spoke to him in 2003.
Kudos to law enforcement for not giving up on this case. The Laster family deserves to know the truth. Knowing it won’t being their loved one back, but they can at least know that the man who killed Fred will finally be brought to justice and punished for his crime.
And as for the fact that Hyde was currently a mental health counselor at Crosswater Community Church in Nocatee? I hope the church will be forthcoming as to how well they vetted Hyde and whether they knew about his past. I suspect that there is much more to this story than has currently been reported.
You can read a February 28, 2018 Florida Times-Union report about Hyde’s case here.
Orick is accused of three counts of aggravated statutory rape, three counts of statutory rape by an authority figure and two counts of sexual battery by an authority figure after a 16-year-old girl who lived with him for three months in Jacksboro reported incidents to her mother. According to the report, the girl has audio recordings of at least one of the alleged encounters.
What follows is an excerpt from a Newsweek article by Art Levine titled, The Harrowing Story of Life Inside Alabama’s Most Sadistic Christian Bootcamp. I hope you will take the time to read the entire article. It serves as a reminder of the fact that the practices and methodologies of men such as Mack Ford and Lester Roloff still influence Evangelicals churches and pastors, encouraging yet another generation of Christians to violently abuse children in the name of God. We must not rest until every last one of these type of homes are closed and their operators prosecuted, convicted, and given a long prison sentences.
It was October 2011, and Captain Charles Kennedy, a veteran policeman, was in the main office at the Restoration Youth Academy (RYA), a Christian home for troubled teens in Prichard, Alabama, when he caught a glimpse of something shocking on a close-circuit monitor: a naked boy crouching in a 6-by-8-foot isolation room as a light bulb burned overhead.
Kennedy had been waiting for William Knott, the program’s manager, to return with some paperwork, and when he walked back into the office, Kennedy asked about the boy, whose name he later learned was Robert. He wanted to know what the boy had done to deserve such treatment. Knott, a squat, powerfully built ex-sailor, calmly explained his rationale: “He’s got an attitude. He’s only been there for a day, and he’ll be there for another day or two.”
“Can’t you give him some clothes?” Kennedy asked.
But Knott offered only a vague answer.
Kennedy had been investigating RYA for little more than a week, spurred by a few complaints by parents of kids in the program. RYA’s executives had promised parents “hope for their teenagers’ future, when hope doesn’t seem possible,” as its website declared. And many were grateful for that. “I was scared I would find my son hanging from a rope or dead from a needle,” says Leslie Crawford, from South Portland, Maine, who paid $1,500 a month to send her truant, drug-using son to RYA.
But what Kennedy had found behind the school’s forbidding metal gates disturbed him. He’d come after hearing from two mothers who were alarmed that their kids had been facing severe punishment. Knott had provided a tour of an empty classroom inside interconnected mobile homes and an adjoining cafeteria filled with quiet, unsmiling children. Afterward, he had allowed Kennedy to speak alone with one of the boys whose mother had called him. That’s when he learned firsthand about the teenagers’ accusations of abuse. As he investigated, he found that many of the school’s “cadets” were afraid to talk. But those who did left Kennedy with the impression that he had stumbled across something terrible. The boys, for instance, told him they were often grabbed out their beds in the middle of the night and forced to fight one another until one was beaten to a pulp. All of them were subjected to a brutal, daily regimen of exercises, sometimes stark naked—pushups, jumping jacks and running in place. Drill instructors, including Knott, frequently punched them, choked them and body-slammed them as they worked out. On his first day in the program, one boy claimed, Knott crouched down next to him, and, after yanking his head up by his hair, started pounding his skull against the floor while shouting, “You will exercise until I get tired!” Another told Kennedy he had been held upside down in shackles and hit with a belt, an allegation later supported by an eyewitness letter by another teen. (Newsweek has either provided anonymity to the minors in the program or changed their names to protect their privacy.)
Kennedy wanted to protect the cadets from abuse, but he also knew he lacked the hard evidence needed to make an arrest. So for the next week or so, he periodically returned to RYA, which is how he found himself with Knott, asking about the naked boy named Robert in the isolation room. The officer was concerned. The United Nations considers the use of solitary confinement as punishment to be torture. But the police officer knew what he’d just seen wasn’t illegal in Alabama if it took place over a relatively short time span. He also knew these institutions bar the young people they control from unmonitored communication with family and outsiders—and most states, including Alabama, don’t even protect workers who report child abuse from being fired. The result: Abuse isn’t reported until long after it was committed, which makes prosecutions nearly impossible.
As Kennedy continued checking on Robert, the boy eventually told him about his stay in isolation. Knott and the school’s founder, John David Young Jr., the pastor of Solid Rock Ministries in Mobile, were frustrated by Robert’s “poor” attitude and persistent depression while in solitary confinement; and they were determined to change his behavior. So after days in solitary confinement, they dragged him from the isolation room to Knott’s bedroom, where Knott handed the boy a .380 automatic pistol. “If you’re so determined to kill yourself,” Knott said, “you should put the gun next to your head and pull the trigger.”
“I pulled it, and it went click,” Robert told the officer.
Kennedy was appalled. He immediately confronted Knott and Young about this sadistic bit of theater, but they didn’t deny the boy’s accusation. In fact, Knott went to his nearby bedroom and returned with the gun and placed it Kennedy’s hand. “I was just teaching him a lesson,” he said.
“I knew then I was dealing with crazy people,” says Kennedy. “You don’t do that to a human being.”
But the insanity had only begun.
The template for these schools is Roloff’s Rebekah Home for Girls in Corpus Christi, Texas, which he created in the 1960s and that became the centerpiece of a chain of religious reformatories. Roloff’s program involved vicious corporal punishment and locking kids in isolation rooms where his sermons were played endlessly. Over more than two decades, the controversial preacher was arrested a few times and his Rebekah school relocated to various states in part to sidestep any state laws mandating oversight, such as one in Texas requiring inspection of all child-care facilities. Yet Roloff faced few consequences, even though one lawsuit featured affidavits from 16 girls saying they were whipped with leather straps, severely paddled and handcuffed to pipes. “Better a pink bottom than a black soul,” Roloff famously declared at a 1973 court hearing.
The stern spirit of Lester Roloff lives on in the resistance by church leaders—often abetted by local politicians—to any government oversight under the guise of separation of church and state. Nine states, including Florida, Alabama and Missouri, have wide-ranging “faith-based” exemptions protecting various church programs and schools from direct government oversight (while 26 states have no requirements for any private schools, religious or secular). Regulations in the U.S. are so loose that controversial organizations are rarely sanctioned despite allegations of rampant abuse. Some programs such as Teen Challenge, the world’s largest fundamentalist treatment chain for adults and youth, are often subsidized by taxpayer dollars—despite many public accusations of abuse and neglect. (Over the years, Teen Challenge has denied any wrongdoing or misconduct.)
As Kennedy says of the nation’s unmonitored religious programs: “They’re hiding behind a cross, but there’s for damn sure evil going on.”
Lucas Greenfield was prepared to scale the razor-wire topped fence surrounding Restoration Youth Academy if it meant his freedom.
While an instructor was busy, Greenfield seized his chance. He was nearly out the door when another student ratted him out.
His punishment for the attempted escape was “isolation,” an empty 8×8 room lit by a lone bulb that burned overhead day and night.
He was clad only in his underwear. That was the rule. Instructors let him out, briefly, twice a day to use the bathroom. Sometimes he got to take a shower. Mostly he just sat or slept.
Greenfield, then 14, spent two months in isolation.
“When you’re inside a tiny room where all you can see is four walls,” he said, “you start – I won’t say hallucinating, but you start going crazy.”
His thoughts ran in dark circles: “What’s the best way to kill myself? Is there any way out of this? This is ridiculous. I hope I die.”
Restoration Youth Academy was a Christian bootcamp-style residential school for troubled youth, squatting in one of the grittiest neighborhoods in Prichard, the worn-down working-class city on Mobile’s north side. Owner and Pastor John David Young and instructor William Knott tightly controlled how the “cadets” – boys and girls ages 10-17 – ate, slept, learned and exercised.
Despite multiple investigations by the Mobile County district attorney’s office and the Alabama Department of Human Resources, and despite complaints of abuse from some students – vehemently denied by Knott and Young – it took officials five years to close down the school.
An investigation of Restoration Youth Academy in 2012 by the Mobile Press-Register found that multiple school employees had criminal records. Prior to joining the academy in Prichard, Knott was a drill instructor at a similar troubled-teen boot camp in Lucedale, Mississippi, that was plagued with lawsuits and allegations of abuse and torture. It was eventually closed.
Restoration Youth Academy and Saving Youth Foundation were affiliated with churches pastored by Young. As church schools, they were exempt from state regulation or oversight. The state kept no records on them. State law didn’t require they file any registration papers to show that they existed.
Alabama law (Code of Alabama 16-1-11.1) says state regulation of any religiously affiliated school would be an unconstitutional burden on religious activities and directly violate the Alabama Religious Freedom Amendment. State law also says the state has no compelling interest to burden nonpublic schools with licensing or regulation.
While Alabama does have a few basic reporting requirements for private schools, it exempts those that are church schools in every instance. Teachers do not have to undergo background checks and schools do not have to be inspected. While many church-affiliated schools do choose to pursue licensing or accreditation by outside agencies, it’s not a mandate in Alabama.
“This is not a church versus state issue,” he said. “The state has the right to tell these people that they can’t hurt kids. They’re causing these children lifelong damage and we allow it.”
He said, “If I get these children declared as domestic animals, I could get them protection I can’t get them as human beings,” said Kennedy.
All of the students interviewed told of boxing matches at the school. Knott or one of the other drill instructors would frequently force two cadets to box each other, sometimes in the middle of the night.
Students said the fights were often mismatched by design, pitting a small boy against a much larger boy. Neither had the option to refuse.
“They’d have the bigger kid beat the [expletive] out of the other kid,” said Greenfield, the boy who spent two months in isolation. “They’d make us form a big circle. You can’t get out and you can’t get back in.
“They would always have somebody, normally me, pray before we’d have the boxing match. Will (Knott) told me to pray nobody got killed. I was like, really? You’re the one making them fight.
“So I would never say ‘die’ in the prayer; I’d pray nobody gets severely bashed up.”
Physical abuse from Knott, Young, Moffett and other instructors was common at the schools, according to Greenfield and others.
“Basically everything revolved around a beating,” said Angelina Randazzo, who was sent to the Prichard school when she was 14. “They made people kneel on rocks to cut up their knees. Made people be out in the sun all day, out in the mud, didn’t give anybody water. I’ve gotten shoes thrown at me, hit in the face, thrown at a wall.”
Greenfield bears scars on the backs of his ankles he said are from being forced to wear shackles.
“They would handcuff and shackle us, kids who were at risk of running away or harming another person, and make us wear it all day,” he said. “They handcuffed this one kid to his bed.”
On February 22, 2017, Pastor John David Young, “boys’ instructor William Knott, 48, and girls’ instructor Aleshia Moffett, 42, received 20-year sentences to be served concurrently for each of three counts of aggravated child abuse.”
Having disclosed his “sin” of masturbation, Mark Stibbe, age 17, was ordered to strip naked and lean over a wooden chair in the garden shed of a lavish Hampshire mansion on the southern coast of England.
Then came the first blow from a cane, its impact so ferocious that it sent the boy into a state of paralysis that lasted through at least 30 more strokes that left him collapsed on the floor, blood oozing down his legs.
“I remember being so appalled by how vicious the first lash was that I couldn’t scream,” Mr. Stibbe, now 56 and an acclaimed Christian author, recalled on a recent afternoon in his Yorkshire home. “You’re in this tiny shed full of canes with this man. I felt utterly powerless.”
Until that day in the late 1970s, the man he says beat him, John Smyth, was known to Mr. Stibbe and his friends as a charismatic lawyer and influential evangelical Christian leader who regularly attended the Christian forum of their nearby boarding school, Winchester College, the oldest in Britain. Now, Mr. Smyth, 75 and keeping a low profile in South Africa, stands at the center of a widening scandal of sadistic abuse of dozens of boys over three decades that has ensnared the leader of the Anglican Church, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury, though only peripherally.
The accusations against Mr. Smyth, which were first reported in February as part of a Channel 4 news investigation, are the latest in a string of large-scale child abuse and sex scandals that have embroiled British institutions in recent months, exposing a long history of denial and cover-ups.
The Hampshire police have begun an investigation into Mr. Smyth’s conduct, and more victims are speaking out in the hope that he will come forth in South Africa and face justice. The most recent account was from the bishop of Guildford, Andrew Watson, who said in a statement that he, too, had received a beating in the infamous garden shed that was “violent, excruciating and shocking.”
Mr. Stibbe said, “The sin that seemed to preoccupy him more than anything was masturbation, and he managed to persuade me that I needed to purge my body of that sin.”
Mr. Smyth would explain to the boys why they needed to be punished so severely. “He quoted from the Bible and told me I had to bleed for Jesus,” said another victim, who attempted suicide on his 21st birthday, after Mr. Smyth promised him “a special kind of beating” for the occasion.
“When he was done, he would lean in towards me and put his face on my neck telling me how proud he was of me,” said the man, who asked that his name not be used because of the deeply personal nature of his remarks.
The scale and severity of the abuses Mr. Smyth is accused of first surfaced in 1982, after the suicide attempt, which prompted an internal investigation by the Iwerne Trust, a Christian charity headed by Mr. Smyth that ran summer camps. He is said to have used his position at camps to win the trust of the boys he was to abuse.
Five of the 13 victims who came forward in 1982 told investigators for the trust that they had received 12 beatings and about 650 strokes. The other eight said they had each been hit about 14,000 times over a period of years.
Some of the victims received up to 100 strokes at a time for masturbating, having indecent thoughts or looking at pornography — beatings that caused some to faint or bleed for up to three weeks, the trust found.
The trust’s report concluded that all the cases were technically criminal offenses, and yet none were reported to the police. Instead, Mr. Smyth was removed from the trust in 1984 and sent to Zimbabwe, where he set up similar Christian summer camps for privately educated boys, the South African news media have reported.
In 1997, Zimbabwe’s prosecuting attorney arrested Mr. Smyth on a charge of culpable homicide in the death of Guide Nyachuru, a 16-year-old boy who was found dead at the bottom of the swimming pool of one of Mr. Smyth’s camps in Zimbabwe. Mr. Smyth denied any involvement in the drowning, calling it a tragic accident, and a year later all charges against him were dropped.
In court documents in the case, he was accused of brutally beating five other boys at the camps there.
“He would strip us naked and hit us with wooden bats to purge us of sin,” said one of the victims in Zimbabwe, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal by Mr. Smyth.
In 2002, Mr. Smyth moved to South Africa, where new accusations of abuse have surfaced in news outlets in recent weeks. Last month, he was removed from the Church-on-Main in Cape Town, where there were claims of inappropriate behavior but not proof of criminal acts, the church said in a statement.
Columbia Road recently found itself the center of attention after its youth pastor — Brian Mitchell — was accused and convicted of four counts of sexual battery. Mitchell was sentenced to ten years in prison for his crimes. A 16-year-old female member of Columbia Road sought spiritual advice from Mitchell, only to find herself a target of his sexual advances. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports:
The girl [said] in a letter to the judge that she looked up to Mitchell, and that she sought him out to learn how to live a more spiritual life through religion.
Mitchell began sending her text messages that became more and more frequent. Someone brought it to the attention of church leaders and the texting stopped for a time.
He started up again, and the girl said the tone of the messages quickly turned from innocent and fun to serious. She said he complained about his wife and their marital problems.
She wrote that she wanted the texts to stop but felt scared to say anything because he was a powerful figure in the church and in her life.
One day, he drove to her home and told her to come out to his car. He kissed her and told her he wanted to see her again.
The next time he drove out to her home, he had sex with her in his car. Another time he had sex with her at her home while his wife was out of town, Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Kristen Karkutt said.
“I did not give him permission,” the girl wrote. “I clearly said ‘no, didn’t want to.’ I felt like he tricked me.”
Mitchell directed her to delete text message exchanges between the two and told her never to tell anyone. He picked her up during her lunch break from school. He sent her flowers for her birthday, then asked her mother at church if she knew who sent them.
Normally an outgoing teen who played sports and worked two jobs while going to school, she found herself unable to get out of bed. She struggled in school.
The girl wrote that she still has nightmares and displays what Corrigan called textbook symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“This is a perfect example of the psychological damage caused by these types of crimes,” [Cuyahoga County Judge Peter] Corrigan said.
Friedman said Mitchell acknowledges that he betrayed the girl, her family, his own family and the church.
“The whirlwind two or three months of Snapchats and texts and the secrecy involved created an adrenaline- and lust-filled situation where he felt like there could be a future,” [defense attorney Ian] Friedman said.
According to the Plain Dealer, once Columbia Road Baptist leaders were made aware of the matter, they reported it to the police. What I want to know if this:
When did the church find out?
How much time expired between finding out and reporting it?
Did the church investigate the matter first, before reporting it to law enforcement?
Did the church consult a lawyer or their insurance company before reporting it to law enforcement?
The reason for asking these questions is that IFB churches routinely try to handle allegations of sexual conduct in-house, hoping to minimize damage to their “testimonies” (reputations).
According to the victim’s mother, Columbia Road church leaders asked the victim to apologize to the sexual predator youth pastor’s wife. In fact, according to the mother, they were told they could not come back to church until they did so. For those of us who investigate, report, and/or follow the foibles of the IFB church movement, blaming victims of sexual assault is far too common. In this case, I suspect the church believes — as many members did when Jack Schaap, pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana was accused of sexual assault — that a 16-year-old church girl enticed or came on to the their fine, upstanding, married, father-of-three youth pastor. Surely, Pastor Mitchell would never, ever have had sex with this girl had she not batted her eyes, showed a bit of cleavage, and led him on.
This is nothing more than what is commonly called slut-shaming. IFB churches promote the false notion that women are responsible for weak, pathetic male church members — including pastors, youth directors, deacons, bus workers and Sunday school teachers — “falling” into sin. This line of thinking is reinforced every time women are reminded that if they don’t dress or behave a certain way, their brothers in Christ will find themselves unable to resist throwing them on the church pew and savaging them while the congregation sings What a Friend We Have in Jesus.
In typical fashion the victim was blamed, and youth pastor Mitchell received dozens of letters which were given to the judge, telling him what an awesome, loving, God-fearing man he is. While I can understand Mitchell’s mother might write a letter on his behalf, it is beyond belief that church members would make any attempt to support a man who sexually assaulted a minor who had been placed in his trust. Ohio law is clear. Mitchell had a professional relationship with the victim. He was obligated to act morally and ethically, meaning that in no circumstance could he have an intimate relationship with the victim. Simply put, she was off-limits, as were every male and female with whom Mitchell had a professional relationship . This is the law. Every pastor, doctor, dentist, social worker, and psychologist knows this — Mitchell included.
According to Columbia Road’s now-disabled Facebook page:
Columbia Road Baptist Church, North Olmsted, Ohio cached Facebook page
According to Columbia Road’s senior pastor elect (2018) Bill Giallouraskis:
I was not privy to any information where church leaders asked that of the mother. There was to my understanding, a time when the wife of Brian and the mother talked together and the wife suggested that it would do a lot to heal the relationship with the young lady ’cause of course she was involved with the youth as a mentor as well, being Brian’s wife. That it would do a lot to help, that if they could make amends with each other. Perhaps the mother misunderstood that to be more than it was.
When asked if Mitchell’s wife felt betrayed by the victim, Giallouraskis said, “I can tell you we were all very surprised. We were all very grieved, we all felt very betrayed.”
Giallouraskis also said:
We have a pretty rigorous process that we put all of our workers through especially any of our workers who are going to work with children or youth. We run background checks, we also have an interview process that we go through that asks some pretty poignant questions about whether there are issues going on in the lives of the people” like sexual immorality or pornography.
I guess the difficulty with Brian was that there have been no prior incident that would have ever come up on a background report. He has a very good recommendation from the previous church that he worked at…He married into a family that has been in our church for four generations. There was just no red flag that came up in our process.
Surely Giallouraskis is aware that criminal background checks only show if someone has been convicted of a crime. Just because Mitchell was well thought of and came from a “good” family doesn’t mean he has not, in the past, preyed on, vulnerable teen girls. As his criminal conviction shows, he has at least preyed on one church teenager. Was he a predator virgin? Time will tell. Virtually every day there are news reports about Evangelical pastors being accused/charged/convicted of sex crimes. I could spend the next hour detailing stories about IFB preachers who were convicted of sex crimes or were caught committing adultery. Giallouraskis ignorantly thinks that by asking prospective employees and volunteers if they are committing fornication/adultery or watching porn that they have done their due diligence. In what setting would a prospective pastor/volunteer ever say, Yo, I like having sex with teenagers and I love watching porn. Never!
For those of us who have spent much of our lives wading in the cesspool called the IFB church movement, the youth pastor’s sexual assault of a church girl and the mother’s claim that the church asked for an apology sound all too familiar. Circling the wagons, protecting the clergy, and blaming the victims have, sadly, become standard operating procedure. In classic IFB-fashion, Columbia Road Baptist Church, instead of making a full disclosure, disabled their social media accounts and posted the following on their website: