Jehovah’s Witnesses Church says it reported abuse to authorities
ROCK HILL – A national support group for abused children is coming to York County to bring attention to the recent murders of three children, one of whom was raped in the days before her death.
Five members of the Meza family were found dead Aug. 9 after a fire at their house at 1043 Crestview Drive. The father, Denis, had been arrested three weeks before on charges he molested his 14-year-old daughter, Denia. The throats of all three children were slashed. The Mezas were Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In court cases, the church has been accused of not taking allegations brought to the church to authorities. However, in the Meza case, a national spokesman for the church said Tuesday that it knew of the molestation and reported it to authorities.
Bill Bowen, director of Silent Lambs, confirmed Tuesday that he and other children’s advocates will host a candlelight vigil Sept. 9 at the Rock Hill National Guard Armory at 7:30 p.m. He said his group will discuss ways to prevent child abuse and will also distribute stuffed toy lambs to area Jehovah’s Witnesses churches. Silent Lambs has printed information on how to report allegations of sexual abuse.
“A horrible crime took place in Rock Hill; three innocent children were murdered. And one of those children was sexually abused and later raped,” said Bowen. “We want to bring attention to this case and the need for sexual abuse allegations to be brought to the authorities quickly so tragedies like this can be avoided in the future.”
Bowen is a former elder with the Jehovah’s Witnesses Church. He quit the church in 2000 after he says church elders refused to address sex abuse allegations involving a member of the church. He says the member was later arrested but was never convicted.
His allegations about his former church have been chronicled in The New York Times and by “Dateline NBC.”
Bowen’s Silent Lambs group (www.silentlambs.org) claims that the church “covers up” allegations of sexual abuse and sometimes does not report those allegations to authorities. Bowen said he decided to come to York County after being contacted by local Jehovah’s Witnesses who disapproved of how the church treated the Meza family.
The five members of the Meza family all belonged to the Spanish Hall of the Jehovah’s Witnesses at 1175 Albright Road in Rock Hill. Church officials refused to publicly comment about the family, and another church stepped forward to help raise money to pay for the funeral and transportation expenses for family members from Nicaragua.
On Aug. 9, the Mezas’ three children — Jayro, 5; Denise, 8; and Denia, 14 — died before a fire destroyed their home. Officials say one of the parents — Marbely or Denis Meza — killed the children. The parents both died of burns and smoke inhalation. York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant said he’s awaiting lab results to determine the killer.
Denia, who was raped within five days of her death, and her mother had what could be interpreted as “defensive wounds” on their arms.
Denis Meza was arrested July 16 on charges of sexually abusing his daughter and was ordered to have no contact with her after he moved out of the home in May. He died a week before he was to go to court.
J.R. Brown of the Jehovah’s Witnesses denied that his church “protects” members from allegations of sexual abuse.
“Our policy is to obey the law and in this instance, the allegations for the sexual abuse came to us in the form of a confession,” Brown said from their New York offices on Tuesday. “And we took these allegations to the authorities. And we have documents to prove it.”
DSS officials say the allegations of abuse were reported to them May 3 but will not say who reported it. Brown would not say at what point prior to May 3 the church had knowledge of the allegations.
Brown says the Rock Hill church did not participate at the Meza family funeral because surviving family members did not request their help. He said the Mezas’ church did hold a memorial service the day after the funeral.
A press conference will be held today at 11:30 a.m. at the Rock Hill City Hall Plaza area to announce the details of the candlelight vigil for the Meza children.
Silent Lambs is also establishing a Meza Children’s Memorial fund to make a donation in their memory; additional proceeds will go to local child abuse support groups.
Want to Know More?
To contribute to the memorial fund and to find out more about the vigil, contact Cindy Foundren at (704) 614-0684.