The Rev. Arthur Allen Jr. spent his last minutes of freedom sitting on a rock by a creek, holding his infant, Mary, and watching his seven other children play.
“You just never know who you’re going to come across out here in the woods,” said Steve Reynolds, the park ranger who discovered the fugitive pastor of the House of Prayer during a routine patrol Monday night at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.
Reynolds handcuffed and arrested Allen, 71, at about 8:30 p.m. in the national park, which includes 48 miles of river and more than 6,000 acres of land.
Allen had eluded police for more than five months.
He is scheduled to appear Monday in Fulton County Superior Court for a hearing to determine if his probation should be revoked. If it is, he could face up to 10 years in prison for his conviction last October of cruelty to children.
Before he fled, Allen said he would appeal the conviction.
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During Allen’s arrest Monday at Sope Creek, in Cobb County, he was “very friendly and amiable” and didn’t resist, said Reynolds, who was careful not to handcuff Allen in front of the children. “He looked good, healthy. His spirits seemed to be good.”
The children, too, “seemed to be perfectly fine. Everybody looked like they were eating well and doing well.”
Allen’s wife, Trina, also was with him. It didn’t look like the Allen family intended to camp for the night, Reynolds said, because they didn’t have any equipment with them. “They were just at the creek cooling off,” he said.
It was not clear Tuesday whether Allen’s family had been with him ever since he skipped a court hearing in March and became a fugitive. Mary was born in May, church member Charlie Ruth said Tuesday.
Allen, now in the Fulton County Jail, declined to be interviewed Tuesday. Trina Allen also declined.
Two other church members, David and Sharon Duncan, ages 46 and 42, remain on the lam.
In October, a Fulton County jury convicted Allen and four other church members, including the Duncans, of cruelty to children after two boys, then 10 and 7, showed up at their elementary school with welts and bruises.
Allen and the others served jail time — his was the longest sentence, 90 days — and were released on probation.
But Allen and the Duncans refused to go to anger management counseling and objected to the judge’s order that they abstain from whipping their children, probation officers said.
In March, Judge T. Jackson Bedford issued warrants for their arrest after Allen and the Duncans skipped a hearing to determine if their probation would be revoked.
On Monday night, ranger Reynolds said, he spotted an empty blue van illegally parked on the edge of the woods, ran the tag number and learned it belonged to Allen. “This name rang a bell to me pretty quickly,” he said. He called for another ranger, Dan Albus.
Said Reynolds, “He and I walked down to the water and saw the felon and his wife and seven or eight children playing at the edge of the water.”
The rangers didn’t want to arrest Allen in front of his family, so they asked him to walk up to the van. “He did everything I told him to do,” Reynolds said. “He told me to tell his wife not to worry.”
As Albus drove Allen to the custody of the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office, Reynolds broke the news of Allen’s arrest to Trina Allen.
“She appeared to be very saddened all of a sudden when I told her Mr. Allen was going with us,” he said. “There wasn’t any choice. He was going with us to Fulton County Jail.”