News Articles

Georgia youth volunteer among those arrested for sexual exploitation of children

Austin Perkins

Editor’s Note: In support of the sixth strategic action of Vision 2025 adopted by messengers to the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting, Baptist Press will continue to report every instance of sexual abuse related to Southern Baptist churches or leaders of which we are made aware.

CAVE SPRING, Ga. (BP) – A youth ministry volunteer in a rural northwest Georgia church allegedly molested and coached a child in how to act in videos, according to police following a two-day sweep that resulted in seven arrests.

Operation Spring Cleaning included 21 locations after reports of suspicious activity, said members of the Floyd County Police Department. One child was rescued from the home of Austin Perkins, a volunteer in the student ministry at Grace Fellowship Baptist Church in Cave Spring who also drove for the church’s extensive bus ministry that reached into Cave Spring but also the nearby community of Coosa and across the state line into Cherokee County, Alabama.

Sgt. Chris Fincher said that the child had no family support and had been taken into Perkins’ home for care.

The victim was coached and directed in what to do, Fincher said, adding: “That’s what makes this such an egregious crime.”

According to the police report, Perkins coached the child in how to act in videos and also engaged in acts of child molestation. Items containing sexually exploitive material involving children include phones, computers, game systems and storage devices.

Those arrested included a 16-year-old juvenile and a 65-year-old who was also charged with possession of methamphetamine. The other five individuals ranged in age from 22-27.

Grace Fellowship Baptist Church is currently without a pastor or any other staff, said Floyd County Baptist Association Director of Missions Tim Smith, who will be meeting with church members following this Sunday’s morning service. Smith said that Perkins was an unpaid student ministry volunteer who resigned two weeks ago for matters unrelated to the investigation. The church, he added, was completely caught off guard by the revelations brought about by the police investigation.

Georgia Baptist Mission Board Executive Director Thomas Hammond told Baptist Press the news “grieves [his] heart.”

“We fully support law enforcement in this investigation,” Hammond said in written comments. “Praying for them as they search out facts and take appropriate action.

“The Georgia Baptist Mission Board has partnered with MinistrySafe for 10 years to provide training for awareness and prevention of these types of crimes. We will continue to make training like this a top priority.

“Let us join together in asking God to bring healing to these victims and their families.”

Cyber tips received through the Internet Crimes Against Children division of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation led to search warrants for electronics and to examine items on the scene. The sexually exploitive material involving children seized was made locally to be distributed worldwide through social media, online chat groups and messenger applications. Police confirmed that some were graphic depictions were with children between the ages of 2 and 12.

The U.S. Secret Service Cyber Crime Taskforce assisted in performing forensic examinations of devices, a process that could take up to weeks but was accomplished in a matter of hours.

The Secret Service examined 13 items containing digital evidence, totaling some five terabytes of information. Police took custody of another 26 devices, amounting to an additional five terabytes of data.