New sex case tied to church congregation

Woman says she was molested

By Maddie Hanna / Monitor staff

June 10, 2011

A second woman has reported being sexually abused while she was a teenager attending Trinity Baptist Church in Concord. She says she sought help from her pastor but he did nothing except instruct her alleged abuser to stop.

The woman, now 34 and living in California, said her stepfather began molesting her in 1994, when she was 17, and continued to do so until she was 19, entering her room at night in their Warner home.

After her mother failed to do anything about the abuse, the woman - who asked to be identified only by her first name, Cheryl - said she went to the church's then-pastor, Chuck Phelps, who brought her, her mother and her stepfather into his office and told her stepfather that "he needed to stop it," the woman said in a phone interview yesterday.

As for Cheryl, "he said he basically wanted me to forgive and forget," she said. She said her stepfather continued to molest her until she went to live with her uncle in California.

Phelps said in a statement provided yesterday by his lawyer, David Gibbs III of Florida, that Cheryl's family told him the state Division for Children, Youth and Families was involved and that the allegations had been reported to the Warner police at the time.

He also said he was told that Cheryl was 18 when the abuse began and said he didn't learn of the allegations until she was 19.

Phelps, now a pastor at a Baptist church in Indianapolis, "intends to fully cooperate and assist New Hampshire law enforcement officials investigating this tragic abuse that occurred within this family's home fifteen years ago," according to the statement.

A message left at a number listed under the stepfather's name went unreturned yesterday. The Monitor is not naming the man since he has not been charged with any crime.

Warner police Officer Scott Leppard said yesterday he is waiting to hear from the Merrimack county Attorney's office before deciding whether to make an arrest.

Leppard couldn't be reached for comment after Phelps issued his statement late yesterday afternoon but said last week that he couldn't find any record of the allegations being reported to the department in the 1990s.

While the church contacted the Warner police with allegations about the case last year, Leppard said the department didn't have enough information to investigate. He said the Concord police referred a more detailed complaint to his department last month, about the time that former Trinity Baptist member Ernest Willis was found guilty of raping his 15-year-old baby sitter twice in 1997.

After the baby sitter, Tina Anderson, became pregnant by Willis, Phelps had her stand before the Trinity Baptist congregation and apologize, Anderson testified during last month's trial.

She said Phelps then helped arrange for her to be sent to live with a Baptist family in Colorado, where she had her baby and put it up for adoption.

While Phelps reported the pregnancy to the Concord police in 1997, officers said they couldn't find Anderson and closed the investigation.

Anderson, now 29 and living in Arizona, agreed to be interviewed by the police last year after a former Trinity Baptist member wrote about her story on a Facebook page critical of Independent Fundamental Baptist churches.

Cheryl - who like Anderson attended the school run by Trinity Baptist - said she decided to speak to the police after another former Trinity Baptist member told her about Anderson's case.

Her uncle, Robert Sheffield of Big Sandy, Texas, said he wanted Cheryl to speak to the police when she was 19, but she was scared "of her mother, her father, the whole church. All of them."

Sheffield, who is the brother of Cheryl's mother, said yesterday that Cheryl was 19 when she told him she was being molested, a disclosure she made while on a family trip to California to visit Sheffield and his family.

The families had planned a trip to Disneyland, and Sheffield said he and his wife didn't want to ruin the trip for Cheryl's younger siblings.

But he ended up confronting his sister in the theme park, where she told him "it had been dealt with by the church," Sheffield said.

He said he told his sister and her husband that Cheryl was going to stay in California, and he enrolled her in high school, since she had fallen behind and still hadn't finished her senior year.

 

Sheffield said he later contacted DCYF because he was concerned about Cheryl's younger sister. He said officials told him they would investigate his complaint but said the process would be confidential.

Sheffield said he also called Phelps. He said the pastor said his conversations with the family were confidential, but he also told Sheffield that Cheryl "just needed to forgive and forget. It served no purpose to destroy the family."

"I told him, you destroyed the girl," Sheffield said. He said Cheryl, who is living in a California halfway house on probation for drug and burglary convictions, has been in and out of drug rehabilitation facilities.

Sheffield said he and his mother have supplied the Warner police with statements. Cheryl said she also sent a statement to the police.

The current pastor at Trinity Baptist, Brian Fuller, said last week the church is working with the Warner police and takes the accusations "incredibly seriously."

He said the church banned the Warner man from participating in ministry after allegations about him surfaced last May, though there was no police investigation at the time. "We only heard there was some kind of sexual assault," said Fuller, who said he contacted the Warner police but was told it would be difficult to investigate the report.

Now that the police are investigating the man, he has been banned from church services, Fuller said.