A South Jersey youth pastor has been charged with coaxing boys on social media to send him nude pictures and videos, then using the images to blackmail them into performing sex acts, the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office said Friday.
Sean Higgins, 30, also serves as music leader at the Harbor Baptist Church in Hainesport and as a teacher at the Harbor Baptist Academy, a private K-12 school, both in the same building on the 2100 block of Marne Highway, authorities said.
His six victims range in age from 12 to 15 and live in Alabama, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota, prosecutors said. They were not members of the church or students at the school.
Higgins was taken into custody Thursday at his home on the 300 block of Temple Boulevard in Palmyra. Investigators forced their way in after he refused to open the door, authorities said. Search warrants were executed at his home and the church, and multiple electronic devices were seized.
It was not immediately known Friday if Higgins has an attorney. A message left at the church was not returned. Its website names Pat Higgins as senior pastor and indicates that his father, Dennis Higgins, started the church in 1997. The website did not specify Sean Higgins' relationship to them.
The prosecutor’s office said Higgins pretended to be a teenage girl named “Julie Miller” and started conversations with a boy on Snapchat and Instagram. After establishing a rapport, he would send naked photos of an unknown girl in return for naked photos of the boy, authorities said.
Higgins took a screenshot of the victim’s friend list and sent it back to the victim, threatening to send the boy’s photos to his friends unless the boy did what he demanded, authorities said.
In most cases, Higgins demanded that the boy go into a bathroom then expose and touch himself while Higgins recorded it, prosecutors said. The “victims would often beg Higgins to be allowed to stop engaging in sexual conduct, but Higgins would demand that they complete his instructions,” prosecutors said.
Higgins is in custody at the Burlington County Jail pending a detention hearing. He is charged with six counts each of manufacturing and possession of child sex-abuse material, five distribution counts, one count of aggravated sexual assault, and related offenses.
Authorities said the investigation is continuing. Anyone who believes they were victimized by Higgins is asked to contact Burlington County Central Communications at 609-265-7113, or send an email to email@example.com.