The youth pastor accused of seducing a 17-year-old member of his church's youth group became close to her family over a period of time, a Shelbyville police detective said today.
Joseph Todd Neill, 36, who was youth minister of North Fork Baptist Church until resigning last week, was charged Thursday with statutory rape and sexual battery by an authority figure.
"He had been texting her for several months and getting close to the family," Detective Sgt. Brian Crews said. "He was spending time with her father, they would go on ball game trips together and things like that. He was trying to get close to her family, not just her."
A friend of Neill's said he is concerned about the impact of the accusations against Neill.
John Barber said Neill has "shown great character his entire life and volunteered so much of his time, money and self to benefit kids in the community.
"I have witnessed first hand the selfless benevolence Todd has given of his life -- through building houses in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans to feeding and meeting with homeless folks at area soup kitchens," Barber said in a letter to the editor sent to the T-G Monday.
"The real story is how Tennessee statutes do not differentiate between a girl who is 13 years and 1 day old and a young lady who is 4 months from being 18."
Neill's actions were noticed by others, Crews said.
"Her parents and other people were also suspicious of their relationship because of the special attention they had been giving each other."
The girl's mother took particular notice and eventually confronted her daughter about the relationship, according to Crews.
"There were two days over the holidays she left the house and made two trips to Walmart at unusual times and stayed longer than what it would have taken."
"Her mother asked where she went and if she had encountered anyone there and she said Neill was there and she talked with him," Crews said.
The girl admitted another 'chance meeting' and, after a long talk with her mother, disclosed details of the relationship, according to Crews.
"The Walmart parking lot video confirms that they met and spent quite a while in his truck on both days," Crews said.
Police were called after the conversation with her mother.
"He was using a number of different devices and unique measures to contact her and conceal the fact he was doing so," Detective Sgt. Brian Crews said.
"He used non-traditional measures. He would disguise his identity and hide his number through several apps on his smart phone.
"We recovered a number of items Friday night at his residence, three cell phones and three computers we're gong to examine further and see if we can come up with other evidence,
"The items will be sent to the TBI for testing, which may take some time to complete, The investigation is ongoing."