By Bob Allen
Members of a Florida Southern Baptist church expressed shock and dismay at Wednesday’s arrest of a lifelong church member and trusted volunteer with youth and the choir on charges of sexual battery against a child.
William Allen Richardson II, 47, a volunteer associate youth pastor and choir director at First Baptist Church of Mango in Seffner, Fla., was arrested at his home in Brandon, Fla., a suburb of Tampa. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said Richardson sexually molested a girl when she was 9 and sexually battered her when she was 11 during Sunday school at the 150-member congregation founded in 1933.
Richardson was booked into the Hillsborough County Jail on charges of sexual battery of a child and lewd molestation. According to local media, Richardson grew up in the church and many members have known him for decades.
Police said they aren’t aware of other victims but fear there may be. “Anytime you have a person of trust in this kind of environment, there’s always that potential that exists,” sheriff’s office spokesperson Larry McKinnon told reporters. Nina Allred, youth director at the First Baptist Church of Mango, who worked alongside Richardson, said when she attended church Wednesday night the children wanted to know “Where’s Allen?”
“His interaction with the children was great,” Allred told Tampa ABC-affiliate WFTS television. “If they had problems they would talk to him about it, and he would talk to them, trying to find a better solution.”
Allred fought back tears after learning that detectives listened in on a phone call with the alleged victim in which Richardson said things that convinced them he had committed sexual battery.
“The history of the church has meant so much to me, and for something like this to happen is just so devastating, and I’m so sorry that this happened,” Allred said. “You trusted the children with me, and I’m so sorry. That’s all I can say.”
Police say they first learned of the allegations Oct. 22 and immediately launched an investigation. They are still trying to determine how the alleged abuse went undetected so long during the busiest hour of the week at a church listed on the Florida Baptist Convention website as having 118 resident members and 67 enrolled in Sunday school.
Vesta Dickerson, church secretary, organist and wife of Pastor Billy Dickerson, told media her husband would have a hard time telling the church about the incident on Sunday.
Dickerson, a graduate of Baylor University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has been pastor at First Baptist Church of Mango for 45 years. In 2010, the Florida Baptist Convention honored him for ministry dating back to when he moved to Florida to become pastor of the former Jackson Heights Baptist Church in Tampa in 1962.
“I can’t find the word ‘retirement’ in the Bible,” Dickerson said in a 2008 Tampa Tribune story marking his 40-year anniversary at First Baptist Church of Mango. Born in Lufkin, Texas, in 1927, and called to the ministry at 17, Dickerson served two churches in Texas before moving to Florida.
“I guess I got sand in my shoes when I visited Florida,” he said. “But I was really inspired to come.”
The Baylor University blog Baylor Proud profiled Dickerson in 2011, both for his six decades in ministry and support for Baylor as a representative at countless “College Night” programs in Florida over the years.