Local News

Children’s ministry coordinator charged with molestation of juvenile

— A children’s ministry coordinator at a Sebring church has been placed on administrative leave after being arrested on a charge of lewd/lascivious molestation involving a juvenile.

Christopher Douglas Friend, 21, 1722 Iris Ave., Sebring, the coordinator at Grace Church, was arrested Tuesday on a warrant from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office charging him with lewd/lascivious molestation involving a juvenile, ages 12 to 15.

The Highlands County Sheriff’s Office arrested him and he was transported to Orange County.

Efforts to find out more information from Orange County authorities were unsuccessful.

“This is not related to any event that occurred in Highlands County,” said the Rev. Randall D. Smith, senior pastor at Grace Church.

Smith said church officials learned several weeks ago about a possible investigation regarding Friend. The church placed him immediately on administrative leave, pending what happens in Orange County, Smith said.

While the church believes a person is not guilty of a crime until they are convicted, it has a no tolerance policy, he said.

Smith said that he did not know the charge against Friend until being told by a newspaper reporter.

Up until this occurred, Smith said, he knew Friend as a caring person. “I have never seen a guy work harder in caring for people,” adding Friend always was dedicated to helping people.

He said Friend grew up in Highlands County and a lot of people here know him.

In a letter to parents of children at Kid City Daycare, Smith said that while he had little information, he added that he “felt it was essential to report to you today’s events in a timely manner. I have been assured that the incident under review did not relate to any of your children and did not take place at the church.”

Although the church placed Friend on administrative leave, Smith emphasized in the letter that Friend hasn’t been convicted.

“We take the care of our children very seriously, and want to do all we can to keep them safe and protected,” he wrote. “At the same time, we must again caution those who would speak out of turn about these events. Accusations are not conclusions, and we don’t have all the details necessary to make judgment about the events under consideration.”


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