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Youth minister takes his own life amid abuse investigation

Jarrett Booker

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, entities, institutions or leaders of which we are made aware.

NASHUA, N.H. (BP) — A former member of the pastoral team at Nashua Baptist Church had undergone extensive background checks and training in child abuse prevention before becoming the focus of an investigation that preceded his suicide on Nov. 27.

According to database records, 37-year-old Jarrett Booker had served as minister of youth at the church since October 2015, working as a volunteer before that.

On Nov. 29 the church released a letter from the elders and deacons saying that on Nov. 22 they became aware of a criminal investigation into Booker over “credible allegations of sexual abuse against minors.” An internal review revealed more evidence of misconduct.

A representative with the Nashua Police Department confirmed with local media that Booker was being investigated for child sex offenses.

“Regardless of the outcome of any criminal investigation, this behavior undeniably violated the moral and ethical standards we expect of our leaders and did not uphold the standards of our faith,” the letter said. “Consequently, we made the decision to immediately terminate Jarrett’s employment, effective November 25, 2023.”

That decision and the investigation’s existence were relayed to the congregation on Sunday, Nov. 26, the day before Booker’s death. Further details of the allegations were withheld “to maintain the integrity of the ongoing legal process.”

“We assured our church that we would share all pertinent information as soon as feasible,” it continued, adding that additional information was indeed shared with the church on Wednesday, Nov. 29.

Booker’s suicide reflected his “refusing to face the consequences of his actions,” the letter said. “This event has added immeasurably to the complexity and pain of the situation.”

Booker leaves behind a wife and son.

“It’s a very sad situation,” said Terry Dorsett, executive director for Baptist Churches of New England, in comments to Baptist Press.

Nashua Baptist has utilized a “robust” child protection policy for many years, he added.

Booker had passed several background checks and undergone training for child abuse prevention, Dorsett said. “Yet somehow, he still managed to do something he shouldn’t have done.”

The church is “doing their very best to handle a difficult situation the best way they can.”

Nashua pastor Stephen Woodard told BP that background checks had been conducted on Booker for the church as well as when he attended outside camps. In addition, Booker participated in an annual protection and response training for all elders and deacons.

In the letter, the church said it “unequivocally condemns all forms of abuse” and stated a commitment to transparency and supporting victims in the healing process. It further issued a commitment to continue fully cooperating with law enforcement in the investigation as it “had encouraged Jarrett to do the same.”

“Our hearts are heavy for the victims, Jarrett’s family, and our congregation, many of whom knew and respected him for years,” the letter said. “We are dedicated to supporting everyone affected by Jarrett’s inexcusable actions, both within our church and beyond. We ask for your prayers as we navigate this devastating situation.”

If you are/have been a victim of sexual abuse or suspect sexual abuse by a pastor, staff member or member of a Southern Baptist church or entity, please reach out for help at 202-864-5578 or [email protected]. All calls are confidential.