Youth minister charged with sexual assaulting four teenage girls
A former youth minister at a Conway church is accused of sexually assaulting four teenage girls and turned himself in to police Wednesday evening.
Horry County police charged 64-year-old Norman Abernathy, of Conway, with two counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor and three counts of second-degree assault and battery, online records show.
According to an incident report, a pastor at Langston Baptist Church reported the assaults to police in June. He told officers Abernathy was a youth minister at the church until he resigned last month after the allegations came to light.
The pastor said Abernathy was not a youth minister at the church when the incidents happened about four to five years ago, but added he was an “active member of their church,” the report says.
At the time of the alleged assaults, the pastor said the teen victims would often spend time with Abernathy’s step-daughter at his home.
The 64-year-old was at an airport traveling to visit his grandkids when he learned of the charges and turned himself in, his attorney Casey Brown said in court Thursday.
Magistrate Aaron Butler set Abernathy’s bond at $50,000. As part of the conditions, he can’t leave South Carolina without court permission.
Victim 1, a 15-year-old girl
One of the victims, who was 15 at the time, told the pastor she once sat next to Abernathy on the couch when he “put his hand on her belly and asked if this was okay,” the report states.
“She was scared, did not say anything and [Abernathy] then put his hand down her pants and underneath her panties,” the pastor told police. “She got afraid, said she had to use the bathroom and went to the bathroom.”
The 15-year-old told the pastor Abernathy groped her on “several other occasions,” including once when he allegedly “pulled her down onto his lap and grabbed her breasts,” the report says.
Victim 2, a 14-year-old girl
Another victim, who was 14 years old at the time, also told the pastor about an assault. Abernathy once got in the bed with her while she was sleeping, cuddled up to her, grabbed her breasts and put his hand underneath her panties, according to police.
When the pastor confronted Abernathy, he denied the allegations but did admit the girls were at his home “many times,” the report notes.
Victim 3, a 12-year-old girl
An additional report lists a 12-year-old victim who interviewed with a detective at the Horry County Police Department July 11. She told the detective she spent time at Abernathy’s home because she was friends with his step-daughter.
The victim said Abernathy told her he was knowledgeable about stars and constellations and that he would show her some after she expressed interest in the subject.
She told the detective she was lying in a hammock with Abernathy in his yard when he put his hand inside of her shirt and bra, according to the report.
“The victim stated [Abernathy] exposed her breasts and told her they were beautiful,” the detective writes in the report.
That’s when the girl said she got up to go back inside the home but the back door was locked. She alleges Abernathy told her he would only open the door if she promised not to tell anyone what had just happened.
The victim eventually got inside the home and went to Abernathy’s step-daughter’s room. While his step-daughter was showering, he came into her room and made her again promise not to tell anyone, but she ended up telling a relative regardless, the report states.
Her mother ended up confronting Abernathy, along with his wife, about the alleged assault but told her he didn’t do anything wrong and “what happened was an accident.”
Victim 4, a 14-year-old girl
A 14-year-old victim met with the same detective July 11. She told the detective her assault happened at night after she ate dinner and had a stomach ache, according to an incident report.
She then went and lied down in Abernathy’s and his wife’s bed after they suggested her to do so.
The report says Abernathy came into the bedroom and got behind her in the bed in a “spooning” position with her.
“The victim stated [Abernathy] began rubbing her stomach and asking her about how her stomach was feeling,” the report states. “The suspect’s hand kept going lower and lower on her stomach.”
She said eventually, his hand went underneath her pants and underwear until she got up and told him she needed to take a shower. She told the detective he would often tell her she was beautiful and “if he was her age he would be dating her.”
Hampton L. Drum, senior pastor of Langston Baptist Church, told The Sun News all the allegations took place a “number of years ago” at Abernathy’s home and the church was not aware of the situation.
“It was just as much of a surprise to everyone else as it was to us,” Drum said. “It’s simply uncharacteristic of our church. We would never harbor anyone who would harm or hurt our youth.”
Drum said extensive background checks are done on anyone who works with the church, and it appears Abernathy has no criminal history.
In addition to working at the church, Abernathy taught religion courses at Coastal Carolina University, confirmed university spokeswoman Martha Hunn.
“Norman Clay Abernathy was an adjunct teaching associate from August 2009 to May 2017,” Hunn said. “There were no reports of misconduct regarding Abernathy during his time at CCU.”
Abernathy is a U.S. Air Force veteran, who served 22 years as an air traffic controller, his attorney Casey Brown said at a Thursday afternoon bond hearing at J. Reuben Long Detention Center.
Brown said Abernathy has “no record, no record at all.” He added his family is “anxious” to handle the charges.
Michaela Broyles: 843-626-0281, @MichaelaBroyles