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Suspect in Jehovah's Witness child sex abuse case arrested

In the wake of an Inquirer and Daily News report on Jehovah's Witnesses and child sex abuse, a suspect in a 2005 abuse case has been arrested and charged with misdemeanor indecent assault.

John Logan Haugh was charged with assaulting a 4-year-old girl at a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall.
John Logan Haugh was charged with assaulting a 4-year-old girl at a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall.Read moreYork County Sheriff's Office

Martin Haugh rolled out of bed one morning earlier this month, shuffled into his kitchen, and turned on his coffee maker. While the machine gurgled to life, he glanced at his phone. A new voice message was waiting.

He filled up a mug and hit play, and heard the voice of a cop from the York Area Regional Police Department deliver some long-awaited news: The man who allegedly sexually molested Haugh's then-4-year-old daughter in 2005 at the Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Hall that his family belonged to in Red Lion, York County, had finally been arrested.

"I had to listen to it three times to make sure I was not having a dream," Haugh said. After a final replay, he ran upstairs and told his wife, Jennifer, and their children about the arrest.

His daughter, now 16, was overjoyed. "Her response," he said, "was, 'Holy s—, dude!"

The man was arraigned Wednesday in York County District Court.

The story of what happened to Haugh's daughter all those years ago has been layered with frustration and pain. The identity of her alleged abuser was never a mystery; he was an adopted relative named John Logan Haugh. But Martin and Jennifer had waited years to report the incident to police because their congregation elders — the Witnesses' equivalent of parish priests — had instructed them to not contact law enforcement, in keeping with the organization's well-practiced efforts to keep the lid on child sex-abuse allegations across the country and around the world.

Police issued an arrest warrant for John Logan Haugh on misdemeanor charges of indecent assault in October, but only recently caught a break in the case. Martin said investigators told him that an elder contacted police and provided an address for the 26-year-old after reading about the molestation last month in an Inquirer and Daily News report on the culture of secrecy that pervades the Witnesses.

John Logan Haugh was arrested on May 3 by police in Dagsboro, a small town in southern Delaware. A court official there said Haugh was released after posting 10 percent of $2,000 bail — and with orders to surrender to authorities in York County.

He finally complied on Wednesday afternoon, when he appeared in court before Magisterial District Judge John Fishel. His father posted bail, which was set at $20,000 this time, according to court records. Haugh's attorney, Jeffrey Marshall, declined to comment.

Jennifer Haugh was "beyond happy" when she found out about the arrest. "I truly feel that wouldn't have happened if the article hadn't run," she said.

Jennifer and Martin left the religion in 2016, fed up with the way they'd been manipulated and intimidated by an organization that had once been a main pillar in their lives. Witnesses who disobey elders' orders or reject some of the religion's teachings can be disfellowshipped or shunned, cut off from their relatives and closest friends — a particularly devastating consequence, since followers often have few close relationships outside of the religion.

Witness officials previously declined to discuss the Haugh case, and instead issued a statement that noted the organization abhors child abuse.

But a growing number of ex-Witnesses continue to go public with their experiences — 267 allegations of sexual abuse were reported in the Netherlands last month — and the organization now finds itself battling litigation on a near-constant basis. (More than 50 women and men have contacted the Inquirer and Daily News through this form to share their stories.)

York Area Regional Police Chief Timothy Damon encouraged survivors to report their abuse to their local police departments. His officers, meanwhile, are trying to determine if elders at the Red Lion Kingdom Hall violated a state law that requires clergy, school employees, and health officials to report suspected child abuse.

But the Haugh case isn't the only potential new legal headache for the religion.

On May 18, Barbara Anderson, an ex-Witness-turned-whistleblower who worked for a decade at the religion's onetime headquarters in Brooklyn, filed a complaint with the New York State Attorney General's Office that accused top Witness officials of "covering up criminal activities committed by up to 775" pedophiles who lurked within the organization.

Anderson, 77, spent much of the last year compiling the 113-page complaint, leveraging a trove of internal records and memos that she amassed while she worked in the 1980s and '90s for the Witnesses' leadership, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York.

The complaint compares the zero-tolerance policy the religion publicly claims to have regarding child abuse with steps its leaders took behind the scenes to gather and protect damaging information, beginning with a March 1997 letter from the Watchtower, which instructed elders to send information about suspected pedophiles in specially marked blue envelopes to its Brooklyn headquarters.

A second letter in 1998 reminded elders of the need for confidentiality, and warned that court officials could hold the Watchtower responsible for appointing known child molesters to positions of authority,  according to a copy of the complaint obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News.

At least 775 blue envelopes were mailed to the Watchtower, a figure Anderson derived from the 2017 testimony of an attorney who was hired by the organization to defend it against a lawsuit that was filed in California by Jose Lopez, a San Diego man who was molested as a child by an alleged serial predator. In that case, the Watchtower incurred more than $2 million worth of fines for refusing to share its internal list of accused child molesters.

Anderson's complaint also mentions a letter she received in 1997 from Harry Peloyan, a former editor of a Witness magazine, Awake! Peloyan told her that the organization's leaders had been slow to understand that child predators are likely to reoffend, and had little interest in publishing information about child abuse. "Had we continued on a blind course," he wrote, "we would have had more megabuck lawsuits against the Society."

In an interview earlier this week, Anderson said submitting the complaint felt like a "momentous" development in her life. "I said to myself, 'If this doesn't do anything, then I don't know what will.' We have to get justice for the victims."

The millenarian religion was founded in Pittsburgh in the 1870s, and teaches followers that only they will survive a fast-approaching Armageddon. Its members are very much out in the world — going to school, working, trying to attract new recruits through door-to-door missionary work — but their personal lives can revolve almost entirely around the organization.

Some former members told me they weren't allowed to play sports or have friends outside of the religion as children. Others were instructed to avoid news coverage and entertainment that wasn't produced by the Witnesses' online TV network. Ironically, the organization is facing greater scrutiny from the mainstream media than ever before.

Actress Leah Remini is reportedly working on a project for the A&E Network about the Witnesses, following in the footsteps of her three-season show Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.

And former 20/20 coanchor Elizabeth Vargas is devoting the May 29 episode of her new A&E series, Cults and Extreme Belief, to the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Vargas said she knew little about the Witnesses before she began working on the series, but was struck by some of the religion's cultural quirks — followers aren't allowed to celebrate holidays or birthdays, and are discouraged from attending college — and was disturbed by a rule that required sex-abuse victims to produce two eyewitnesses to support their claims.

"I'm not a cult expert," she said, "but we have cult experts who believe, without a doubt, that Jehovah's Witnesses is a cult."

The organization has long insisted that it is not a cult, even devoting a section of its website to refuting the idea. But Vargas noted that all of the groups she's examined share a common trait of cutting its members off from the rest of society and discouraging any dissent.

"You start to lose your perspective," she said.