A former student ministry leader in North Charleston, South Carolina, is accused of engaging in inappropriate behavior with 10 victims, whose ages ranged from 13 to 16. He is charged with 13 counts of second-degree assault and battery.
According to the North Charleston Police Department, Vernon Tyrell Willis, 26, a youth pastor at Seacoast Church Dream Center, is accused of groping the young girls against their will.
On March 3, Willis surrendered to investigators with the North Charleston Police Department.
An employee of Seacoast reported improper contacts between an employee and a minor on December 5, according to a post on the church website, which does not mention Willis.
The church said it looked into the complaint, it promptly put the employee on leave and prohibited him from entering its property.
Seacoast claims that after establishing the employee had broken the church’s code of conduct, it fired him from his job and reported the event to police enforcement within 48 hours.
According to them, the church’s parents and students were made aware of the dismissal and given the option to meet with the leadership as well as options for counseling.
However Mark Peper, an attorney who represents several of the victims, claimed that a probe by his company revealed the church was aware of Willis’ behavior as early as 2020 but continued to permit him unrestricted access to female minors.
Seacoast said it also has engaged an attorney to investigate.
“As a place of worship and a home to so many families in the community, Seacoast Church is heartbroken by a former employee’s inexcusable and indefensible actions,” the church’s statement said. “We are grateful for the young women who shared their story, which allowed us to put an end to this behavior and want to thank these students and their families for being brave and coming forward.”
“We will continue ongoing work to ensure all students can worship freely in safe and protected spaces,” the statement continued. “As leaders, we are grieved over the actions of a former staff member. Our commitment to the church and community is to continue to operate in transparency and support the victims and their families of this situation in their healing process.”
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