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Friday, April 06, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Former pastor shakes family's faith

LUMBERTON N.C. — While teenagers were in one room learning Bible verses at Vacation Bible School, the Rev. Ronald Lee Simpson was in his office making sexual advances toward one of his youth members.

The 14-year-old girl was called to Simpson's office at St. Matthews Missionary Baptist Church for arguing with her cousin during Bible class. The boy apologized, then Simpson sent him out of the office. He told the girl to stay. He later asked for a hug.

"I didn't think anything of it. I thought he was a pastor, and he just wanted a hug from one of his members," said the girl, who is now 18. "When I hugged him, he grabbed my butt. I thought, ‘What is this man doing?'"

The girl sat on the sofa at her home in Lumberton as she talked about what happened over a two-month period in 2004. It was the first time she has talked about the incident since Simpson, 42, pleaded guilty last week to statutory rape of a 12-year-old.

The 12-year-old, who did not attend Simpson’s church, later had his child.

Simpson was sentenced 15 to 18 years in prison.

He also was charged with sexual offenses involving the 14-year-old. Those charges were consolidated into the statutory rape charge.

The Observer does not identify victims of sexual assault and is not using the 18-year-old's name or her mother’s name.

The girl ran her fingers through her braids and spoke with anger as she recalled what happened at the church.

The incident during Vacation Bible School was the first of many advances by Simpson, she said.

How many? She could not recall.

They did not have sex, the girl said, but he asked.

Simpson would tell the girl to wear certain clothes to church, such as a short black skirt, she said. He would ask her whether she thought he was attractive. He often told her that she had a nice body and that she could have been a model.

The girl said she was scared to tell anyone because she didn't think they would believe her.

"He said I would get in trouble if I came out and told people, and that we would both get in trouble; that people would be disappointed," she said. "I was confused and scared. ... It made me feel like I was being convicted by God because I kept it in for so long."

The girl said she decided to come forward when Simpson started making comments about other young girls in the church. She didn't want the same thing to happen to them, she said.

Simpson, through his lawyer, declined to be interviewed.

Surprised parent

The girl's mother said she was in shock when her daughter told her what was going on.

Simpson had started several activities to get the youth more involved in the church, the woman said. He often would take her daughter to church functions and call to speak to her daughter about church business.

"I couldn’t believe it," the woman said. "This was someone who portrayed himself as a person who cared about young people."

"I actually wanted to beat him down, but I know that is not Godly-like," the woman said. "He seemed so perfect. He had a lot of people fooled. People were more focused on the man than on God."

The woman initially wondered why her daughter hadn’t told her sooner.

"Then you realize that your child is scared and fearful," she said. "There is no way of telling how he would have acted or what he would have done. But I am glad she did what she did."

In December 2004, the girl's family confronted Simpson in his office.

"He sat there with a straight face and denied everything," the mother said.

The girl got so angry with Simpson that she started yelling at him, she said. She ran out of the office into the church sanctuary. The next time she confronted Simpson, it was in front of the congregation.

"People at the church started shaking their heads and stuff because they didn't believe it," the girl said. "After that, he started praying, and I walked out of the church. I wasn't going to sit there and let this man pray over me."

The girl's self-esteem dropped when church members didn't believe her, she said.

The accusations against Simpson divided the church. When he resigned, about half of the members left with him.

DNA test

It wasn’t until rumors about the 12-year-old and the results of a DNA test proved that Simpson was the father of the 12-year-old’s baby that people begin to realize she was telling the truth.

"That really hurt because some of the people were family," the girl's mother said. "We stayed away from the church for a while, even after they found a new pastor. I really didn't want to go back, but I started seeking the Lord and there is where he wanted me to be. Some questioned how I could go back to a place where people didn't believe you, and you didn't know who to trust."

Simpson resigned in January 2005, nearly a year after he started working at the church.

In October 2005, he was charged with attempted statutory rape and sex offense with a child and two counts of indecent liberties with a child involving the 14-year-old. He also was charged with statutory rape of the 12-year-old.

The family waited two years for their day in court. They got a phone call March 26 saying Simpson had agreed to plead guilty. The girl's mother was surprised because Simpson had continued to profess his innocence.

A part of her didn't want her daughter to go through a trial because she didn't want her to relive what happened.

"When court was over that day, he looked at me but he kept looking at her," the woman said. "I believe if he had another opportunity, he would take it. I believe it is going to take God to deliver him from stuff like that. I hope he can get counseling in prison."

The girl's mother said she feels she will be able to forgive Simpson. "But I can't forget," she said.

Simpson reports to Robeson County Jail on Monday. The mother said she was upset that the court would allow a sex offender to go free for two weeks.

"He’s been out since he was arrested," she said. "No telling who else he has come in contact with and who else he may have hurt. He had enough time to get his business in order."

Moving on

The girl said she has been able to get through the ordeal with the help of her mother, friends, family and prayer.

"I feel like it has made me stronger," the girl said.

The girl said anyone who is a victim of sexual assault should not be afraid to come forward.

"It's best to come and tell things like this," she said. "It can destroy your life if you hold it in. Don't let anyone tell you that you can not go to someone to tell. Something will be done about their actions."

Her mother agreed.

"People who are going through things like this — it may not involve a pastor. It may be a parent or somebody else, a teacher, who knows — it is all right to come forward because someone will listen," she said. "Not everyone has a closed ear."

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