A Pennsylvania youth pastor is facing sexual assault charges after allegedly getting a 15-year-old girl pregnant after a hidden seven-month relationship, police say.
New York Daily News reports that Wesley Blackburn, 35, a father of five children, was once the pastor that everyone thought they could turn to for guidance and support, including a 15-year-old girl, who’d known him since 2009. In 2014, she joined his youth group at the Faith Brethren Bible Church in New Paris, and by 2016, an alleged secret relationship between the two had begun.
According to senior pastor Jim Espenshade, Blackburn’s wife said that her husband confessed to the relationship last week. He also apparently confessed to her that he was no longer in love with her and had found someone new. When Espenshade learned of the situation, he immediately called other church leaders in for a parking lot meeting, and on the spot, they decided to fire Blackburn and phone the police.
“(I feel) disappointed, betrayed, stabbed in the back. I have a 14-year-old granddaughter. When I heard what he did – upset is a good word for it,” Espenshade said. “We didn’t even care what he had to say. We don’t tolerate this kind of stuff it’s inappropriate. It’s reprehensible. There was never a discussion of anything else. We had to do what was right.”
According to the arrest affidavit, Blackburn, while packing up his belongings in his church office on Thursday afternoon, told a state trooper that he started having a sexual relationship with the teen in March. He allegedly acknowledged that he was the father of the unborn baby before he was arrested and taken into custody.
Blackburn’s wife told police that her husband admitted to the affair and told he wanted a divorce. She refused to sign divorce papers, and instead, went to Espenshade for advice. Espenshade, who has a daughter of his own, admitted he was shocked and disappointed.
“[I feel] disappointed, betrayed, stabbed in the back. I have a 14-year-old granddaughter. When I heard what he did – upset is a good word for it.”
District Judge Tonya Osman arraigned Blackburn on Thursday evening. The Tribune-Democrat reports that he’s being held at the Bedford County jail with a $200,000 bail, and faces numerous statutory sexual assault and indecent assault charges. He also faces one charge of corruption of a minor. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for October 19.
Youth Pastors Behaving Badly
Last year, another youth pastor was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl multiple times in Pope County, Arkansas. Rusty Allen Russell was accused of “being intimate” and “having sexual physical contact” with the teen, after her dad found cellphone conversations between the two that insinuated they were romantically involved.
Arkansas Matters reports that the former youth pastor allegedly sent a message to the teen saying, “I never anticipated that I would fall so madly in love w U,” followed by another message that read, “I laid awake imagining u on our wedding day & how incredible that day will be.”
Similar to the Blackburn incident, the pastor of the church immediately fired Russell and called the police. He was arrested and charged with 4th degree sexual assault. The outcome of Russell’s case was not immediately clear.
In August, 41-year-old David Farren, a former youth pastor at several area churches in Texarkana, Arkansas, was arrested after being accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl. He was arrested and charged with three counts of sexual assault in the first degree. He’s awaiting his next court hearing.
The victim was a member of the youth group that Farren once led. According to Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Connie Mitchell, there may be additional victims that will come forward against Farren.
“We do believe there are additional victims that will come forward.”
In September, former youth pastor Brian Mitchell, 31, of Cleveland, Ohio, faced charges of carrying on a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl who was a member of his church in North Olmsted. According to court documents, Mitchell began sending the victim infrequent text messages, which increased more and more over time. Eventually, he kissed her one on occasion, and later had sex with her in his car.
The victim claimed that she looked up to Mitchell, but she never gave him permission to sexually assault her.
“I did not give him permission. I clearly said ‘no, didn’t want to.’ I felt like he tricked me.”
The youth pastor ended up getting a 10-year sentence in prison.
[Featured Image by New Paris Police Department]