A Middle Tennessee church community is dealing with a shock after their youth pastor was accused of rape and sexual battery.
Police said Joseph Neill, 36, of Unionville, TN, had inappropriate contact with a 17-year-old girl last week after going out of his way to get close to her.
Neill was the youth pastor at Bedford County's North Fork Baptist Church.
According to detectives, Neill became friends with the girl's family, gaining their trust. They also said he even went to great lengths to keep things private.
However, perhaps most troubling, investigators said the warning signs were there all along, and everyone should have seen them.
Detectives say, typically, a child sex predator is either a family member or a close family friend. In this case, investigators say the Shelbyville youth pastor is suspected of giving the teen money for Christmas, texting her from a fake phone number, watching ball games with her dad and eventually getting close enough to commit a heinous crime.
"It's just disheartening to think that someone that is in a position of trust like that is involved in a crime that is not only legally wrong but also morally wrong," said Shelbyville police Detective Brian Crews. "I think that there were some warning signs in this relationship, that people noticed them getting close and may have been able to prevent this from happening if they would have acted earlier."
The alleged crimes took place in a parking lot near Walmart, where police said Neill arranged to meet the girl on two separate occasions then sexually abused her in his truck.
Neill's friends are adamant none of this ever happened.
"There's two sides to every story, and you know the truth will come out eventually," said friend Jason Barber.
But the truth, according to police, is that it did happen - twice - and, at this point, they're concerned about other potential victims.
"Unfortunately in cases like this, we know that he knows what he did was wrong because she is under 18. We don't know what his cutoff limit would be. We don't know if he would violate the law at what age. Would he justify it in his mind? And that is what scares me," Crews said.
Neill was arrested Thursday after the girl's parents called police. Channel 4 News was unable to contact him, but police said he has denied the allegations.
Neill resigned from his job at the church before the accusations came out. The church pastor says the congregation is thinking about and praying for the family, and the church will fully cooperate with police.
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