Happening Now Now

BREAKING: Former Hays Co. deacon charged with sexually abusing young girls, police say – Austin American-Statesman

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A former Hays County deacon has been charged with two counts of indecency with a child and is being investigated in connection to several other allegations of sexual abuse against young girls, Austin police and church officials said.

Charles Sweet, 85, was a deacon at the Hays Hills Baptist Church until he was banned from membership in 2012, when church officials learned he had sexually abused a family member in the past, the church’s pastor, Aaron Kahler, said.

The Hays County sheriff’s office learned of the incident from the church and opened an investigation into Sweet, which they closed without bringing charges, according to Austin police. In January, however, Austin police said they got a report from another woman who said she was sexually abused by Sweet when she was a child.

At a media briefing Wednesday, Austin police Det. Eric Guevara said his office had reopened the 2012 investigation, along with a new investigation into the second woman’s allegation. Guevara said police now have enough evidence to charge Sweet with two counts of indecency with a child by contact. He was not in custody at the Travis County by Wednesday afternoon, online jail records show.

Guevara said Sweet was connected to the victims through ministry work he performed in Hays County outside of the church, including bible study and tutoring. They believe the abuse happened in the late 1990s and early 2000s at Sweet’s residence in Austin and in Hays County. Guevara said the victims were between 6 and 12 years old at the time and are now in their 20s.

Authorities are asking anyone else who may have been abused by Sweet to call Austin police at 512-974-6880 or the Hays County sheriff’s office at 512-393-7896.

“I just want to let the survivors know that coming forward doesn’t mean that it’s all about the criminal investigation, but it also has to do with the recovery process,” Guevara said.

Hays Hills church said it has cooperated with the police investigation from the beginning and informed the congregation of the initial allegation of abuse at a meeting on Sept. 9, 2012. Sweet was immediately banned from the church. Kahler said they have since learned of six girls, now women, who may have been abused by him.

“As members of the body of Christ, we want to demonstrate Christ’s care and compassion to these women. We want to take this opportunity to ask for prayer for the victims and their families. We are heartbroken by the pain of this circumstance and desire justice and healing for all,” Kahler said in a statement Wednesday. “Hays Hills Baptist Church will not tolerate abuse of any kind and ensuring the health and safety of our children and students is of paramount importance.”

Kahler said none of the instances of sexual abuse it is aware of occurred at the church campus. The church will be providing professional counseling to the six women. It will also partner with MinistrySafe, national experts in child sexual abuse issues, to train staff and volunteers serving minors at the church.

“We believe that this circumstance can be redeemed for good,” Kahler said. “We see this as an opportunity to emphasize the call of the church to be a safe harbor for children and youth.”

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