Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

November 23, 2013

‘Uncovering the truth’

Police investigate allegations of sex abuse by former church youth volunteer

By SAMANTHA PERRY
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — West Virginia State Police officials are investigating a former church youth teacher and mentor for at-risk youth as a result of sexual abuse and sexual assault allegations.

Sgt. M.D. Clemons, with the Crimes Against Children Unit of the West Virginia State Police, said the individual under investigation was a youth teacher at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Bluefield for many years, and that her investigation has found allegations of abuse that date back to 1986.

“He helped with the youth program,” she said. “He also led mission trips.”

Clemons said she has currently interviewed 12 individuals who have reported misconduct that includes sexual abuse and sexual assault. The victims were preteen and teenage boys.

“Nothing that I have now indicates there was any abuse at the church, however some occurred on mission trips and at the individual’s home,” she said.

Clemons said church officials have cooperated with the investigation, which began at the first of November. “The church actually brought it to my attention.”

Jonathan Rockness, pastor of the church, said the individual is not on the church staff, nor has he ever been employed by Westminster. “However, through the years he has volunteered in various capacities for the church, including with youth trips that required chaperones.”

Rockness said early this year they were alerted to an incident of misconduct that allegedly occurred several years ago. “We went directly to the State Police and reported what we had learned. The police told us to stay quiet about it until they were able to take a look at the case.

“In June, the police reported back to us that they would not be pursuing the case, as the behavior we reported was inappropriate, but not actionable. Even though the legal authorities declined to pursue the case any further, the leadership of the church was not satisfied that we had gotten to the bottom of the situation,” he said.

Rockness said the church conducted its own investigation, which recently yielded some “actionable information,” which was immediately reported to authorities.

“We have been fully cooperative with the authorities and will continue to be, as we are committed to uncovering the truth and seeing justice met,” Rockness said. “We also hope and pray for healing and wholeness for any potential victims in this situation. We are devastated for them and their families.”   

Clemons said the individual under investigation also served as a WE CAN (Working to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect) volunteer during the 1990s.

Clemons said she is seeking other individuals who may have an incident to report. Anyone who would like to report abuse or misconduct can contact Clemons at Child Protect of Mercer County at 304-425-2710.

— Contact Samantha Perry at sperry@bdtonline.com