HAINESPORT, N.J. - Allegations of sexual abuse in a church school have rocked a Burlington County, N.J., congregation.
FOX 29 Investigates has learned the investigation is focusing on a male teacher's aide. Jeff Cole reports a criminal probe is under way as children are questioned, and anyone with information is urged to step forward.
St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church has been a fixture in Hainesport since 1867.
Now, it's facing ugly allegations of failure to protect young children from an alleged sex abuser working in the church at its reJoyce Christian School.
Attorney Brian Kent represents four children ages 5 and 6 who have told their parents of "inappropriate touching."
"It's a parent's worst nightmare come true, and I think it's just fueled even more so by the fact that they learned that these allegations existed back in 2014," Kent said.
A long-time member of St. Paul's and a parent of one of the children tells FOX 29 her child told her in early December of the touching and has been interviewed by investigators with the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office and New Jersey child abuse investigators.
The county prosecutor's office wouldn't confirm a criminal probe, but New Jersey State Police did.
FOX 29 has been told by multiple sources the investigation focuses on a male teacher's aide, who was first accused back in 2014 of questionable behavior with children but allowed to keep working in the school if he was never alone with kids.
"When it comes to the safety of children, you can't take a risk," Kent said. "If you know that there is a danger with regard to kids as 2 years old, which is some of the kids at the school there were that young, you can't expose them to any risk, let alone a known risk where there's been prior complaints made against this guy."
FOX 29 is not naming the alleged abuser in this case because he has not been criminally charged. But when we knocked at the door of his home Wednesday, we received a startling answer from a relative.
"We understand that Mr. ---- is under investigation by the state police and the Burlington…" Cole said.
"Yes, he is, and that' an official investigation in progress," the relative said.
"Yeah, he is under investigation?" Cole asked, as the door was shut.
In a letter to parents from the St. Paul's pastor in December, the teacher's aide is named, and parents are told he was suspended.
The pastor was not available for comment Wednesday.
A statement from the office of the Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America says it does not tolerate inappropriate sexual behavior, had no prior knowledge of inappropriate behavior and offers prayers to all those affected.
The teacher's aide was suspended when state investigators informed the church of the allegations, Cole reported.
Of course, FOX 29 Investigates is staying on the story.