Women who say they survived abuse at Jacksonville church return to campus
JACKSONVILLE, Florida. – Some of the women who say they were abused at a north Jacksonville church returned to the church campus Wednesday with their attorney to share their stories. Lawyer Cynthia Crawford told News4JAX that she is also a former member of the church, which is why women trust her.
She joined them on Wednesday at the former site of Jacksonville’s Body of Christ Assembly Church near Old Kings Road. The church pastor and two other members were arrested and charged with capital sexual assaults this month.
The women who shared their stories with News4JAX were in church at different times and described the changes and abuse they witnessed and endured – spanning over 20 years.
“To think he’s still standing or maybe they just replaced him, like they replaced all those victims year after year,” Crawford said.
The old two-storey church building is closed off by Old Kings Road.
“What happened here makes me feel what this place is like. It’s disgusting, it should never happen,” said Elisabeth D’Augerot.
D’Augerot and Jennifer Bélanger attended church and school at different times. They both recall the abuse they witnessed from church leaders, such as Pastor Paul Dyal, Jerome Teschendorf and Vernon Williamson – all of whom were charged with capital sexual assault.
“In 1994 or 1995, Vernon Williamson was living here. It was extremely scary and inappropriate feelings every time you were around him and how he behaved,” D’Augerot said.
“That’s where Paul Dyal and his family lived,” Bélanger recalled as he strolled the property on Wednesday. “I remember every time you were called out there, you knew you were in trouble.”
Belanger said she had good memories, but the bad one was so bad it overshadowed everything else.
Crawford said she herself had not been abused in church, but when she heard what other people said she had experienced, she couldn’t sit still.
“They trust me because I went to this church. I left when I was young. It didn’t happen to me, but it happened to them,” Crawford said. “The memories I had that were positive are now as ramshackle and demolished as the church is behind me.”
Crawford said that although she left when she was young, her connection to the church ran deep.
“Paul Dyal knows me. I stayed in his house when I was 8 years old. His family knows me, I went to school with his sons. Vernon Williamson knows me,” Crawford said.
Crawford said she has stories of more than 15 people alleging abuse not only at the Jacksonville Assembly of the Body of Christ Church, but within the Gospel Assembly.
“It’s a network of churches,” Crawford explained. “I’ve had people call and talk about very similar actions, very similar lifestyles, very similar styles of abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, in Kentucky, Texas, Oklahoma, California, Oregon. Everywhere.”
The women each described a different experience, but they work for one purpose.
“When I was a kid, this place had to be closed,” D’Augerot said. “Coming here now to finally see and know that something is being done finally gives me so much joy.”
Crawford said that for the women she spoke with, the statute of limitations has long passed for civil lawsuits, so right now they are focused on finding more people to come forward for the criminal case.
Crawford says their stories can help in the criminal prosecution of Dyal, Teschendorf and Williamson.
Dyal and Williamson are in Duval County Jail.
News4JAX contacted the Oklahoma jail where Teschendorf was arrested, and officials said he was no longer in their system. He’s not yet in Duval’s system either, so it’s unclear when he’ll arrive in Jacksonville.
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