Saturday, October 2, 2004

Minister charged as abuser

Police say there may be at least five other victims, all boys

By David Eck, Enquirer contributor
and Jennifer Edwards, Enquirer staff writer

MAINEVILLE - The longtime minister of a Baptist church and former council member in this Warren County village is accused of sexually abusing a 12-year-old church member - and police say there could be more victims.

C. Stephen Harmon.
(Photo provided)
C. Stephen Harmon, 47, was held Friday night on no bond at the Warren County Jail. He was charged with one count of gross sexual imposition.

Harmon has been minister at Maineville Baptist Church for 15 years. He stopped working for the church this week after the allegation arose, said church secretary Myra Wiseman.

"It's just a horrible time," a tearful Wiseman said Friday. "It's just awful."

Hamilton Township Police Chief Eugene Duvelius said Friday that Harmon gave authorities a statement admitting molesting the 12-year-old and indicating possible other molestations over a 12-year period. He could face more charges, the chief said.

The case unfolded late Wednesday when the boy's parents reported the alleged abuse to police, Duvelius said. Harmon was interviewed, and the investigation shows there could be at least five additional victims, authorities said.

"We're in the process of trying to locate all of the children involved," Duvelius said. "We just want to make sure those children are OK."

Hamilton Township police are urging anyone whose children may have been victimized to contact them.

The purported victims are all males between 12 and 15 years old, who were inappropriately touched while at church or church-related events, Duvelius said.

"(Harmon) did indicate some (activity) took place in the Columbus area," Duvelius said. "From what he indicated, it was all just . . . touching." Activity may also have occurred in Kentucky, Duvelius said.

On Thursday, police said, they removed six computers, videotape, and several hundred compact and floppy discs. The computer equipment is being analyzed by the Miami Valley Crime Laboratory, while Hamilton Township investigators are viewing the videotapes for illegal material, Duvelius said.

"The church has been very cooperative with us," the chief said.

On Friday, the church secretary released a statement from the congregation:

"We are deeply saddened and greatly outraged at the events that have come to light regarding the former pastor, Steve Harmon. It is hard for anyone to understand how someone could do these things; especially someone supposed to lead us in our faith.

"Our faith stands strong and we believe that God has a plan, even in these terrible times. We fully support and cooperate with the legal system and expect that justice will be done. Our prayers and support go out to the victims, as they struggle to overcome."

In an interview with the Enquirer Monday on an unrelated issue regarding the church, Harmon described himself as an "old-fashioned country preacher."

"We still preach abstinence. We still preach holy living. We still preach what was preached 180 years ago," he said. "We are a church for anybody. But we are not a church that's for everybody."

Harmon served at least two years on Maineville village council about six years ago, officials said.

According to Harmon's biography on the church's Web site, he has written more than 30 Bible study books and the 380-page A Pictorial History of the Maineville Crossroads. He started a church in Northern Virginia before going to Maineville in August 1987, and became pastor in January 1990.

Harmon's wife, Landa Gale, teaches in a Christian school and is the church's pianist, a Sunday school teacher, and fills in everywhere else she is needed, the biography states. The couple's grown daughter also sings in the church.

Calls to the Harmon home were not returned Friday night.

Bill Schilling, the pastor of Maineville United Methodist Church across Foster-Maineville Road from Maineville Baptist, said he was reading books by Harmon on Thursday night.

"I was crushed. It's hard to take," Schilling said. "The church is supposed to be the one sacred place in society and this world where people can come and be safe and allowed to be innocent from the darkness of the world."

"You just never would imagine that anybody you know would do something like that," said Lisa Wilson, who has lived next door to the Harmons for at least 10 years.


Enquirer contributor Karen Vance contributed to this story.

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