ELYRIA — A former church youth leader is set to go on trial later this month on allegations he lured 11- and 12-year-old boys from his Cleveland church to his North Ridgeville home and sexually abused them.
Jeremy Pettry, who now is an ordained minister, has been incarcerated in the Lorain County Jail since October and faces two counts of rape and six counts of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor.
North Ridgeville police Detective Randall Young said the 32-year-old Pettry was a youth leader at the Pearlbrook Church of God in Cleveland and would invite boys he taught to stay over at his home on Saturday nights to watch movies and play video games before they went to church Sunday mornings.
While the victims were at Pettry’s house he would allegedly engage in sexual conduct with them, Young said.
The allegations span from July 2005 through Sept. 22, 2008, according to the indictment against Pettry handed down last month. The indictment covers multiple victims, according to Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will’s office.
Young said that police believe there are additional victims whom Pettry hasn’t been charged with sexually abusing yet, and he described the case as “ever expanding.”
Anthony Manning, Pettry’s attorney, said he is still waiting to review the evidence against his client and couldn’t comment on the case.
Gary Lauzon, pastor of the Pearlbrook Church of God, said Thursday that he and other church leaders had been unaware of what Pettry was allegedly doing with children who attended the church.
“If anything would have been made aware to me, I would have searched it out and contacted the authorities,” he said.
Lauzon said none of Pettry’s alleged crimes took place on church grounds because the church has safeguards in place, including video cameras and rules requiring multiple teachers to be in the classroom to prevent abuses.
He also said that Pettry left the church about two years ago and went on to join the Parma-based Life Outreach Church.
According to state records, that church was formally created in February 2012 by Pettry, his wife, Kathleen Pettry, and Rachelle Greene. Pettry was registered as a reverend with the state in June 2012.
Greene, who serves as the pastor at Life Outreach and is married to one of Pettry’s brothers, said Pettry is no longer affiliated with her church.
She said she had no idea of what Pettry was allegedly doing with children when he came to her church, but she later began to have suspicions about him because he was being “too affectionate” with the church’s youth.
“Had we known that, had we been forewarned, Jeremy would not be a reverend here,” she said.
Greene said she also used to go to Pearlbrook but left some time before Pettry did.
And although Lauzon described Pettry as having a limited role in the church hierarchy, Greene said she recalled from her time there that Pettry worked as a camp counselor for the Church of God and had been among the church’s deacons. She also believes church leaders at Pearlbrook may have been aware there was reason to have concern about Pettry because he had been investigated by Cuyahoga County Children Services.
Young said police are aware that Children Services was involved with Pettry’s family, but he added that was a separate investigation from the one he is conducting.
In a motion asking Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge to reduce Pettry’s $250,000 bond, Manning wrote that Pettry and his wife have a 2-year-old child and another baby due in March.
Manning wrote that if the bond was reduced, Pettry would live in his Parma home with his wife and had seasonal work lined up. He also noted that Pettry doesn’t have a criminal record.
Burge refused to lower the bond.
Lauzon said the charges against Pettry haven’t had much impact on his church because many of the parishioners from when Pettry was there have moved on. He said he isn’t even exactly certain who the victims were.
Greene, however, said that the allegations and Life Outreach’s decision to cut ties with Pettry have led to people leaving her church, including Pettry’s wife.
“I’m not going to say our church hasn’t suffered for doing the right thing, because it has,” she said.
Young said that if anyone has information about Pettry, they should contact him at (440) 327-2191.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.