Detectives say a nine-year-old boy told his parents Church allegedly showed him pornographic materials on a computer and molested him at the councilman’s home.
Church, 66, was arrested at 2:50 a.m. and charged with two counts of felony child molestation. He is being held without bond in the county jail. According to the arrest warrant, the incident happened between May 8 and May 10 of this year.
City attorney Randall Bentley said he learned of the charges Friday morning.
Regarding any plans the City Council may take, Bentley said, “I really don’t know. I think right now it’s under investigation.”
Bentley referred all questions to the Cobb Police Department.
Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews said in an email that, “From the city’s perspective, we were extremely saddened to hear of the charges and ultimate arrest of council member Church. This is a very sensitive, active and ongoing investigation being conducted by Cobb County PD and their Crimes against Children Division.”
Like Bentley, Mathews referred questions about the investigation to police.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family members of as well as the victim,” Mathews wrote in his email.
Church lives in the Westover subdivision, just across Kennesaw Due West Road from Kennesaw Mountain High School. No one answered the door when an MDJ reporter stopped by his house Friday, but Church’s next door neighbor described the scene of his arrest.
“When we got outside there were cars and detectives,” said Celine Esmeir, a 16-year-old Kennesaw Mountain High School student who has lived next to Church for 10 years.
Church was a widower before he married his second wife, Karen, in March 2013. Between them, the couple has six children and nine grandchildren.
Esmeir said many of those grandchildren could often be found at his house.
“There were always kids at his house, little kids,” Esmeir said. All of them were relatives, I don’t think there were ever kids that weren’t relatives there.”
Esmeir described Church as a friendly neighbor, but said the family did not know him very well. She said Church’s brother knocked on her front door at about 10 a.m. Friday looking for him, and she briefly thought Church was missing.
Esmeir described the allegations as “shocking.”
“Things have happened before to people close to us who have done things that are a little shocking,” Esmeir said. “But for it to be your neighbor — child molestation has got to be the worst thing, in my opinion, that you can do.”
Though Church lives in the city of Kennesaw, the case is being handled by Cobb police to avoid any signs of a conflict of interest, according to Bowman.
Bowman said the case started when the boy came forward Thursday night about the alleged incident. It is unknown if there are other victims at this point. Police did not say if the victim is related to Church.
Reached by phone, Kennesaw Councilman Jim Sebastian said Friday morning he hadn’t heard news of the arrest. Sebastian said he saw no indication Church was capable of the acts he’s charged with.
“Our relationship has been fine, normal,” he said. “You caught me wordless on that one.”
Council members Debra Williams and Tim Killingsworth also were reached by phone, but declined to comment.
A 1966 graduate of Sprayberry High School, Church has worked in the dental field for 45 years. He was first elected mayor of Kennesaw in 1999, serving two terms. He was elected to the City Council in November 2013 and took office in January 2014. His city biography lists his job as a real estate agent with Clear Summit Realty.
The man who Church defeated for the council seat last fall, Bruce Jenkins, urged Kennesaw residents not to jump to conclusions.
“We need to be extremely cautious and wait to see all of the facts,” said Jenkins, who also served on the City Council during Church’s stint as mayor in 2006 and 2007. “Let’s not rush.”
Jenkins compared the case to the ongoing Justin Ross Harris case. Harris, according to police, left his 22-month-old son in a hot car for seven hours June 18, leading to the child’s death. Some say the case is a tragic accident, but Harris now faces murder charges. Jenkins said that case illustrates that the public needs to wait before passing judgment.
Anyone with information about the case is asked to call (770) 801-3470.