A cone of silence among law enforcement has engulfed a three-year criminal investigation into allegations that members of a Sterling Pentecostal church emotionally, physically and sexually assaulted ex-congregants for years.
Calvary Temple became the subject of an investigation three years ago by the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office after the Times-Mirror reported in March 2015 that two women had come forward and alleged they were victims of rampant abuse at the hands of the church’s leadership, teachers and teachers’ aides. Since then, dozens more ex-congregants have come forward, alleging similar incidents.
The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office has turned the case over to the Loudoun County Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s “for review and determination,” according to Kraig Troxell, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office. However, it’s not known how long the office has had the case and officials decline to answer any further questions.
Many times, investigators hand over evidence to the commonwealth’s attorney for a final determination on whether the case should go before a county grand jury. A grand jury would then determine if there’s enough evidence to issue criminal indictments.
However, with officials declining to talk about the case, there’s no way of knowing where it stands.
“Our office continues to work in concert with the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office in the investigation of Calvary Temple. At this time, there is no additional information I can provide, nor do I have a timeline for when the investigation will be completed,” said Heather Williamson, spokeswoman for the commonwealth's attorney's office.
The sheriff’s office in September 2015 contacted Virginia State Police for help, saying investigators were sorting through decades of allegations and evidence. The announcement came after a July 2015 letter to Sheriff Mike Chapman (R) from Chief Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Nicole Wittmann that recommended state police take over the investigation.
In April 2017, the FBI raided a Sterling apartment owned by the church, where neighbors reported seeing agents removing firearms and computers from the premises. At the time, the sheriff’s office said the raid was carried out by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Since then, no other details have emerged as to whether that incident is connected to the sheriff’s office’s case.
In addition to sexual abuse, former members of the church say they've witnessed countless incidents of physical and mental abuse, with families being broken apart through divorce should one member disagree with the church's teachings. Many who have been "shunned" from the church or left on their own accord say they haven't seen or spoken to their children in years.
The lack of communication from law enforcement has left ex-congregants disheartened.
“We are very frustrated, to say the least. I have heard that the investigations have been turned over to the commonwealth’s attorney. It has been months and months, and still no word. When contacted, they say they cannot comment on an active case. But this is the most inactive ‘active’ case I have seen. Nothing going on at all. If it is going nowhere, we would like to know so we can consider other action,” said former congregant Ellen Kusar. “Considering the publicity and media attention focused on sexual abuse in the workplace, it seems the local authorities and government would be anxious to do something about this. Otherwise, a lot of people will be asking why they have ignored known sexual and physical abuse.”
Protesters lined the sidewalk across the street from the church on Tripleseven Road for more than a year after the Times-Mirror report. They continue to protest events sponsored by the church, such as its annual car show, Easter celebration and other children’s activities open to the public.
This isn’t the first time law enforcement has encountered reports of abuse by the church.
In 2003, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office launched an investigation after Chassidi Thompson, who was 14 at the time, said she was sexually assaulted by one of the church’s deacons.
The report was filed with a sergeant at the sheriff’s office – also a member of Calvary – who was not re-sworn in as a deputy when Chapman won a second term to office in November 2015. That case was closed, but law enforcement officials have declined to say when or why it stopped. It was reopened in March 2015 as the Times-Mirror began reporting on the incidents.
The church’s former members believe history will repeat itself.
“Knowing that the previous investigation was dropped years ago, we wonder if the same will happen now even though more victims have come forward,” said Gary Foster, who along with his wife and son left the church years ago. His daughter and grandchildren still attend Calvary, and the family has been estranged for years.
Still, those “shunned” from the church say they will continue to fight to get their families back regardless of the investigation’s outcome.
Molly Fitch, who has been estranged from her children for years, continues to run a blog where she leaves messages for her loved ones and allows others to do the same. She left the church after she said her husband was told by Pastor Star Scott that his wife needed to be "broken" and put away in a hotel. She spent six weeks away from her family, bouncing from one hotel to two extended stay inns. It was during this time that she says she believes the church "brainwashed" her children to turn against her.
Fitch wrote Scott in an email last month, asking to meet with him as a way to resolve any resentment so she once again can have a relationship with her children.
The reply wasn’t what she expected.
“Pastor did not receive your email. I shared it with him, and he asked me to share with you that he would not meet with you until there was unconditional repentance on your part before the Lord and those you’ve sinned against,” her son wrote back to her. “Until that time, we will continue to pray and believe God for your repentance and want more than anything to see you right with God.”