Children's pastor charged with sexual abuse
MUSCLE SHOALS, Ala. (BP) -- A Baptist children's pastor in Alabama has been charged with two counts of child pornography, 31 counts of second-degree sodomy and three counts of sexual abuse of a child under the age of 12, according to media reports compiled by The Alabama Baptist newspaper.
Jeffrey Dale Eddie, the children's pastor and administrator of Highland Park Baptist Church, Muscle Shoals, was arrested Feb. 4. Eddie, who has been released from his duties, had served on the Highland Park staff for 16 years.
Highland Park released the following statement:
"As a church, we are outraged, shocked and deeply saddened by the events that have unfolded over the last few days. First and foremost, we are striving to assist any children and families that have been affected by these events. The health and [well-being] of these children is our No. 1 priority at this time.
"For years, Highland Park Baptist Church has invested in the Shoals community and we are committed to helping our entire community cope with this situation. Anyone with any information about this case should immediately contact the Muscle Shoals Police Department.
"Any children or families in search of counseling may contact our church office for assistance. In closing, we want to personally thank every person that has come forward. They are heroes and should be treated as such."
The Muscle Shoals Police Department picked Eddie up for questioning on Feb. 2 after the church's worship arts pastor, Jeff Beech, found two pornographic images of young males among Eddie's laptop files.
Beech and Pastor Brett Pitman had asked to see Eddie's electronic devices after a church member walked into Eddie's office in late January and witnessed a child sitting on his lap with Eddie's hands up the child's shirt.
When questioned by police Eddie, 41, said he was addicted to pornography and the images on his computer were downloaded from the Internet. The investigation was originally focused on child pornography but evidence pointed authorities to additional charges, the police said.
Eddie reportedly admitted to sexually abusing multiple members of Highland Park's children's ministry and was unable to recall all of the victims. One victim said Eddie engaged in sexual acts with him at least once a month beginning in 2011 when the child was 11 years old.
Eddie was being held in the Colbert County Jail on a $1,030,000 bond, according to media reports.
Prior to his role at Highland Park, Eddie had served with three other churches and worked as a juvenile detention officer at the Tennessee Valley Juvenile Detention Facility in Tuscumbia.
He has two sons, and according to court documents, his wife Melissa filed for divorce Feb. 3.
Five counselors from Pathways Professional Counseling and Colbert-Lauderdale Baptist Association Disaster Relief chaplains are serving as resources to church members.
In a press conference Feb. 6, Muscle Shoals Police Chief Robert Evans said "additional charges are forthcoming."
A preliminary hearing is set for Feb. 18, according to reports.
Compiled by The Alabama Baptist staff. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).