Anonymous responses to news articles on the Internet are accurately generalizing what the Jackson County Sheriff's Office is investigating at an Independence church, according to an official involved in the investigation.
Investigators continued on Wednesday searching the New Covenant Faith Center on the 1600 block of North Jennings Road. Monday night, sheriff's deputies raided the property, armed with a search warrant that gave them access to the church, two residences and two other structures.
They will likely conclude the search today, said Col. Ben Kenney of the sheriff's office.
Anonymous accounts on Web sites of local broadcast stations have reported claims of child molestation and other types of physical and emotional abuse that happened at or near the church's property.
Kenney could not say directly that they are investigating child molestation because of a judge's decision to seal the search warrant. However, he did acknowledge that "everything we're hearing about" online is "drawing an interest" to the investigation, Kenney said.
He told the Associated Press that the anonymous accounts are "hitting the nail on the head."
One of the residences searched was the home of Lloyd A. Sartain, pastor of the church.
Sartain has been questioned multiple times by investigators. He was released Tuesday evening after sheriff's deputies took him into custody on a 24-hour hold, questioning him about their investigation, said his attorney, John Carnes.
Carnes will be submitting motions to unseal the warrant that neither he nor his client have seen.
The sheriff's office has not said what alleged criminal activity they are investigating. But they issued a request to the public for anyone who might have information about wrongdoing at the church, even going back 20 to 30 years, to call them at 816-524-4300.
"We've had responses from Minnesota and Ohio," Kenney said.
Carnes will also submit motions to get Sartain's seized property back.
The sheriff's office has seized several firearms, a large amount of money - Carnes has heard it totals $100,000 - paper files and computers.
No charges have been filed against Sartain or anybody else connected with the church.
And Carnes does not think there will be.
"He's a victim of the sheriff's publicity campaign," Carnes, an Independence attorney, said. "You have an unprofessional investigation going on."
In addition to the claims of child abuse and molestation, former church members have posted allegations that Sartain was running a cult.
"That church has been an established church for 30 or 40 years," Carnes said. "It's been active in that neighborhood. It doesn't sound like a cult to me."
The sheriff's office has investigated the church for a year.
"This information wasn't brought up by the Jackson County Sheriff's Office," Kenney said, responding to Carnes' allegation of a baseless investigation. "This information was brought up by the concerned citizens of Jackson County who had been victims or alleged victims of this church.
"If somebody comes to us with information about a criminal charge and it's first-hand information and they claim to be a victim, then we are obligated to investigate that to the best of our ability."