November 17, 2011
An El Paso County grand jury on Wednesday indicted a female teacher at a now-shuttered Christian school in Colorado Springs on charges of luring a sophomore boy into a sexual relationship.
Three others affiliated with Hilltop Baptist School — two administrators and the senior pastor of Hilltop Baptist Church, which operated it — were also charged Wednesday with failing to report the abuse.
The indictments were announced Thursday by the El Paso County Sheriff's Office. The school closed its doors last year.
The former teacher, Terah Allyn Rawlings, 32, allegedly had sex with the then-15-year-old boy during the 2007-2008 school year and during the following summer, according to grand jury charging documents.
She was charged with four counts of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust; four counts alleging a pattern of the same crime; and one count of promoting obscenity.
Also charged were Rawlings’ uncle, Hilltop Baptist Church senior pastor Franklin “Wayne” Knight, 63; her father, former school athletic director and associate pastor Raymond "Allen" Knight, 57; and former principal Jan Ocvirk, 51.
All three were tipped to the abuse but failed to comply with a state law requiring them to report it to law enforcement, the indictment alleges. Church workers and teachers are so-called “mandatory reporters,” meaning they must contact authorities if they are aware of allegations of sexual abuse on a child.
Wayne Knight was also charged with accessory to the abuse, a felony, with the grand jury finding that he “unlawfully and feloniously rendered assistance” to his niece. He is accused of ignoring three separate reports.
The defendants, who are free on bail, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Ken Bennett, the church's outreach director, declined to comment on the allegations saying it was a "legal issue."
The congregation was informed of the charges at services Wednesday night, he said.
"My sense is that the congregation is united and prayerful," he said. "We don't know the whole story. We trust our pastor. The Lord's will will be done."
Hilltop Baptist Church was founded in the late 1970s by Bill Knight, the current pastor's father, and has a congregation of 500 to 600 families, according to Bennett. The K-12 school closed last year after enrollment fell from 200 to 130 students, he said.
According to the indictment, Rawlings first had sex with the boy in the fall of 2007, seducing him in her parked car. Authorities said the pair also had sex in the pastor's home. The teen broke off their relationship the following summer.
The Sheriff’s Office learned of the allegations in December of 2010, sheriff’s spokeswoman Lt. Lari Sevene said in a news release.
But authorities say some at the school and church knew about the abuse as early as 2008, when students reported their concerns about the relationship. Further reports were ignored in 2010, the indictment alleges.
Investigators searched the school and Rawlings’ home and conducted multiple interviews before requesting the case be sent to a grand jury, Sevene said.
Grand juries are convened in secret and conduct their investigations out of the public eye. Fourth Judicial District Attorney Dan May has repeatedly called them a valuable fact-finding tool in cases where people are reluctant to cooperate.
Grand juries have subpoena powers, meaning that unlike police, they can charge witnesses who refuse to cooperate.
Gazette writer Carol McGraw contributed to this report.