According to The Herald, Mark Willian Heotzler is a former youth pastor facing multiple charges of sexually assaulting minors while employed at Grace Chapel Community Church located at 4075 Lamor Rd, Hermitage, PA 16148.
At least ten victims have come forward with accusations of sexual assault by Hoetzler. The abuse, which included one incident of the suspect having a 15-year-old boy remove his clothes and ride his back, was said to have happened in his home in Jefferson Township. The suspect allegedly sent inappropriate images via text and through social media to the underage victims in addition to make sexual advances.
The sexual abuse is reported to have taken place between 2015 and 2021. He was employed as a youth pastor at Grace Chapel Community Church from May 2014 until April 2019. The lead pastor, Aaron Lego, responded to The Herald that the church was fully cooperating with the criminal investigation and was deeply saddened by the events.
Heotzler is being held in the Franklin County Jail and is facing charges that include the following:
Attorney contributor Brian Kent is a sexual assault lawyer in Pennsylvania. He has represented numerous victims of sexual assault in civil lawsuits over the years. Brian has provided some information regarding the legal rights of victims sexually assaulted by a youth pastor:
"Churches have a legal obligation to provide a certain level of security and protection to the congregation and clergy. However, sometimes sexual predators can gain employment within the church. To gain access to their victims, predators often seek out positions of power and use them to their advantage in order to harm individuals under their care. Churches and other institutions should protect their members from hurtful leaders such as predators. In fact, they may even be held as negligent if assault crimes occur on their property or by their staff and proper safety measures were not in place. Some examples of safety measures include doing background checks on all staff members, installing surveillance cameras, and even having proper reporting policies in place."
"In certain cases, negligence can allow the incidents of sexual abuse to occur within a religious organization. If previous complaints of sexual assault involving a pastor or clergy member are ignored by the administration, this is considered negligence. In negligence cases, victims should be aware they may have grounds for a civil lawsuit against the pastor or clergy member in addition to the establishment itself. It is highly advised for victims and their families to seek out the advice of an experienced sexual assault lawyer."