The associate pastor of a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship church in North Carolina is under arrest for allegedly enticing a 16-year-old girl to create child pornography.
Daniel Franklin Heath, 33, stepped down after 10 years on staff at First Baptist Church in Wilson, North Carolina, after his arrest May 7 on a charge of sexual exploitation of a minor. If convicted, he faces from 44 months to more than 15 years in prison.
Heath, a graduate of Campbell University Divinity School, served seven years as youth minister at First Baptist before being named associate pastor three years ago. The church’s former pastor, Douglas Murray, retired two years ago and currently serves as past moderator on the Coordinating Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina.
According to The Wilson Times, the FBI contacted the Wilson Police Department in April describing Heath as subject of an ongoing investigation. A search of his home on Tuesday produced evidence leading to his arrest.
“The joint state and federal investigation is ongoing, therefore no additional information can be released at this time by the Wilson Police Department,” public information officer Sgt. Steve Stroud told the newspaper.
Henry Skinner, chairman of First Baptist’s deacon board, said the church body is devastated.
“It hurts those who loved and cared for him,” Skinner told The Wilson Times. “It hurts the church. It hurts our reputation as Christians.”
“Anytime there is a fallen leader in our midst, especially in a faith situation, it’s extremely difficult,” Skinner said. “The person you’ve known and loved has fallen from grace, but our faith says we must still love the individual while we may detest what he may have done.”
Heath was due to appear in court May 10. He is reportedly being held under a $500,000 secured bond, described as a possible flight risk and potential harm to himself and the community.