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Minister Accused of Sex Abuse Commits Suicide

4-5-2007 Alabama:
A bi-vocational Southern Baptist pastor charged last week with molesting an 11-year-old girl in Alabama died Tuesday in an apparent suicide.

Authorities in Gainesville, Ga., meanwhile, said they had arrested a former youth minister at a Southern Baptist church on charges of molesting two boys in their teens, one during a church function inside the church.

Stephen Lyle "Steve" Whittaker, 40, was found dead at a residence in rural Conecuh County in south Alabama, not far from the Florida state line. According to local media, Whittaker had been living in a travel trailer in the yard of his father's residence for about a week.

Whittaker, former pastor of the 33-member Beaver Creek Baptist Church in Baker, Fla., had been working for a trucking company for a few days. He reportedly told supervisors Tuesday morning he had a family emergency. He parked his truck at his father's house about 10 a.m., where he spoke to his father and sister, telling them he would join them later for coffee. He went to the camper trailer. A few minutes later his father and sister heard a gunshot. They went to the trailer and found him dead.

Police said they found a firearm at the scene, along with a note saying whom to contact, funeral plans and where Whittaker wanted to be buried. He is survived by a wife and one child.

Whittaker was out on bond and awaiting trial on a charge of felony sexual abuse. He turned himself in to police in Brewton, Ala., Tuesday, March 27, after the girl told classmates at school Whittaker had repeatedly abused her. One of the schoolmates told her mother, who in turn called the alleged victim's mother. She called police.

Whittaker reportedly admitted to investigators that he touched the girl but denied it was abuse. He said it happened accidentally while they were playing. The girl also told police it occurred during play. Both Whittaker and the child told police the incidents happened many times over recent months.

Whittaker was released from jail on $5,000 bond. The Brewton Standard reported last week that some in the area complained the bond was too low for a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

"I guess it was all just too much for him to bear," Conecuh County Sheriff Edwin Booker told the Mobile Press-Register. Brewton Police Sgt. Eric Suarez, the investigator of the Brewton case, told the newspaper reports of Whittaker's death "shocked us." ..more.. by
by Bob Allen

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