Covering a 'Complicated' Story in Missouri

This week, NPR aired several reports about cases of alleged child sexual abuse involving a couple of church leaders in Southwest Missouri. The accusers are church members, most of whom are related to the accused by blood or marriage. All of the accused deny all the charges against them. In this reporter's notebook, NPR's Doualy Xaykaothao shares how challenging it was to gather the story.

I first saw this story in the summer. It seemed to be unusual because of the familial ties between most of the accused church leaders and the accusers. It was also interesting because their place of worship was on a 100-acre-farm in the Ozarks — a beautiful part of this country that I knew little about. NPR producer Art Silverman and I traveled to Missouri to report on the alleged child sexual abuse cases.

At an October preliminary hearing in Newton County, a judge swore in an accuser before she testified against one church leader: 63-year-old Pastor George Johnston. He denies all the charges against him. The hearing took place in a small court-room on a rainy day. Apart from the courtroom staff and the lawyers, there were only a handful of observers in the public seating area.

As we continued our reporting, things got more complex. There are two farms, but one religious community. The number of accusers changed as additional witnesses came forward. Charges were amended or dismissed. I wanted to get interviews with all the key figures. I reviewed court documents. I tried to talk to most of the accusers. I was only able to talk to the other accused pastor, Raymond Lambert. And that under strict conditions imposed by his lawyers. Lambert denies all the charges against him.

What struck me was how some of the accusers said they still loved their pastors, despite what the accused are alleged to have done. Pastor Raymond Lambert also says he loves everyone in his congregation, despite the fact that many of his family members have left the community and made accusations against him.

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