A Georgia megachurch is facing allegations it failed to warn congregants about a former youth volunteer who’s been charged with trying to traffic a 16-year-old on the dark web.
Records obtained by The Roys Report (TRR) show that on June 30, authorities arrested Kelly Garrett Ivey—a former youth volunteer at Rock Springs Church in Milner, Ga.—and charged him with child cruelty and kidnapping. And last Monday, a grand jury indicted Ivey, 41, on first and second-degree charges of cruelty to children, trafficking, and three counts of criminal attempt to commit a felony, including kidnapping.
Yet, members of Rock Springs said they just learned of the charges against Ivey last week, when a local newspaper, The Monroe County Reporter, published a story. They added that the multi-site Rock Springs Church and its affiliated school, Rock Springs Christian Academy, where Ivey also volunteered, didn’t publish any announcement about Ivey’s arrest.
According to The Reporter, arrest warrants stated that Ivey was trying to sell information about a 16-year-old’s home address and places she regularly frequented, so she could be abducted or harmed.
Atlanta News First reported that the warrants also stated that Ivey advertised the “virgin female” on “Slave Bay”—a website advertising unclothed women on the dark web. The news report added that in July, a judge denied bond and said Ivey “posed a significant danger.”
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A mother named Brandy Brown questioned on a local Facebook group why the church hadn’t notified her, even though her daughter had attended the academy and church youth program while Ivey was volunteering there.
“Why wasn’t an announcement made?” she wrote. “If it is to protect themselves, why not say, ‘Allegedly this happened, but to ensure the safety of our members and youth, please talk to your children about this incident, and if you learn anything you are concerned with, please notify the police as this is an ongoing investigation.'”
Another woman, named Taylor Sharpton, wrote, “The loopholes in this story will cause more to leave, myself and my family included.”
Alexandria Jones, who had attended Rock Springs about a decade ago, told TRR that she and her family were planning to start attending again—until this.
“I hyped my kids up about how great the kids’ programs were and then found out about all this a week later,” she said.
TRR reached out to Rock Springs Church for comment, but the church did not respond.
However, Rock Springs’ Administrative Pastor Cameron Shifflett told The Reporter that Ivey had passed a background check before volunteering for the church and academy. Shifflett also claimed that Ivey had stopped attending the church 20 months ago and added, “It’s so tragic. Everything we ever knew of him was that he was a good, standup, morally decent guy.”
Shifflett also told The Reporter that the law considers everyone innocent until proven guilty and lamented that if Ivey is found not guilty, his reputation will still be ruined.
Shiflett’s comments drew backlash from readers who claimed he focused more on ministering to Ivey than expressing sympathy for the victim and her family.
Also, one church member, Jennifer Camp, told TRR that Shifflett lied when he claimed that Ivey had stopped attending the church 20 months ago. Camp said Ivey attended Rock Springs last March and April and could have been there as recently as June.
Camp said she was unsure when Ivey had stopped volunteering but stated that Ivey had regularly hung out in the kids’ building on Wednesday nights.
“Do you think we, as your congregation, did not see him with our own eyes?” she added.
A pattern of cover-up?
The pastor of Rock Springs is Benny Tate, a figure so prominent in Georgia that there’s a highway named after him.
Tate also was one of four prominent pastors who claimed former Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president and accused sexual abuser, Johnny Hunt, was fit to return to ministry last year, after undergoing a restoration program.
Hunt was accused in a landmark report on abuse within the SBC of sexually assaulting another pastor’s wife more than a decade ago. Hunt initially denied the allegation, but then claimed the encounter was consensual.
SBC President Bart Barber has stated publicly that he would “permanently defrock” Hunt for what he did.
However, Tate referred to Hunt last year as “our friend” and compared helping him to the biblical story of the good Samaritan. “I don’t know of anybody who’s done more to help preachers than Johnny Hunt,” Tate said through tears.
Church members told The Roys Report (TRR) that Tate and Rock Springs appear to have a pattern of covering for wrongdoers.
In addition to Ivey, two other Rock Springs staff have been arrested over the last three years. Each time, members claim the church kept them in the dark.
According to Camp, Rock Springs is handling Ivey’s arrest like they treated Stein and Pierce’s arrests.
“They worked very hard to pretend that it didn’t exist,” she said. “Just like right now, nobody says anything.”
Similarly, a former member who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation told TRR that in 2020, when parents learned that Stein was no longer teaching at the academy, they did not receive any information.
Another former member who wished to remain anonymous told TRR she stopped attending Rock Springs after Stein’s arrest. She added that when police later arrested Pierce for having meth on school property, it was “the nail in the coffin.”
“It is hush hush, because I feel like the church does not want their name tarnished,” the former member said. “Remember this is a megachurch here.”