ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — After more than 15 years of silence, a Rockford woman is speaking out against a local church, claiming a deacon sexually abused her as a teen and the church covered it up.
At just 15-years-old, “Sarah” says she was sexually abused at North Love Baptist Church, 5301 E Riverside Blvd.
Now, she’s suing the church and a man by the name of John Neese, who she claims was behind it all.
“I would just tell myself over and over again, as a little girl, this didn’t happen.. this didn’t happen. And I would just wake up the next morning and go to school, and this would happen all over again,” she said.
“Sarah” said it all began in 2004 at a Sunday night service, where she first met Neese.
“He would tell me, constantly, that I couldn’t tell my parents because they wouldn’t believe me,” she recalled. “And, as a little girl, I believed him.”
She claims that the abuse she suffered by Neese began shortly after he offered her a waitressing job at Independence Village retirement home, at 3655 N Alpine Rd.
“I would bring up this food to the residents and I would find myself running down the halls, or running down the stairs, because I was trying to run away from him. But, he was always there to meet me and he would have his way with me,” she said.
“Sarah” said the abuse continued for two years.
“What I’m comfortable saying is that I was made to do what he asked me to do – and if I didn’t do it properly – he would make me do it again,” she said.
Now, she’s claiming former pastor, Paul Kingsbury, hid the abuse when she confronted him about it in 2017.
“With big tears in my eyes, I told him, ‘Pastor Paul Kingsbury, there is a man in your church that you need to be made aware of,'” she said. “I shared with him explicit details of what this man did to me, and the first thing that came out of his mouth was, ‘who have you told?'”
Eyewitness News tried to make contact with Neese about this story, but was unable to. North Love Baptist Church told us to leave the property.
“Sarah’s” attorneys say several others have since come forward. A total of four people are currently pursuing legal action against North Love.
Attorney Tim Frieburg, with Nessler & Associates, said, “It’s going to have the avalanche effect that, a lot of times these cases have, where one person comes forward and you get a snowfall of everyone else.”
“I had to seek closure,” Sarah said. “And the biggest thing was, I didn’t want him to control me anymore.”
Pastor Kingsbury has since resigned from North Love.