The pastor of Crossroads Baptist Church in Sellersburg, Indiana, along with some of his employees, has been arrested and charged with battery and neglect for allegedly beating children in his care with a wooden paddle.
Gerald Harris is the owner and operator of a boarding academy which serves mostly out-of-state students. Parents, teachers, and caregivers are permitted to discipline children, but local prosecutors allege the pastor and his staff crossed the line to “criminal battery.”
Police and Child Protective Services staff uncovered the alleged abuse while conducting a welfare check Tuesday at the Well of Grace Boarding Academy. Investigators interviewed children between the ages of 8 and 19.
During interviews with students, five children claimed workers “whipped” them with a wooden paddle, which authorities said caused “serious bruising.” Also, an 8-year-old boy told police that an employee tied a rope around his waist and jerked him around as punishment for misbehavior.
Pastor Harris is accused of beating a 16-year-old boy with a paddle in front of other students as punishment for smirking while he was ordered to read from the Bible.
Additionally, an 11-year-old boy with “very serious bruising” on his buttocks and legs told investigators he was also hit with a wooden paddle by Harris and another employee, Christopher Williams, when he wet his bed. Students were told they could not use the bathroom once the lights were turned off at night.
Well of Grace’s Facebook page says it serves boys who are “heading down the paths of destruction” through “addictions and their reckless living. Administrators say they teach discipline ethics to transform “unwanted and seemingly ruined lives into Godly young men.”
All children at the school have been removed from the church and returned to their parents or placed in the custody of Child Protective Services.
Harris has bonded out of jail, but will appear next week in court when formal charges are filed against him.