HARRISBURG, Pa. – A central Pennsylvania church and its youth pastor have pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from a mock kidnapping of a youth group that was meant to be a lesson in religious persecution.
Glad Tidings Assembly of God Church in Lower Swatara Township and Andrew David Jordan, 28, of Elizabethtown, waived an appearance Thursday at a formal arraignment in Dauphin County Court on charges of false imprisonment and simple assault, WHTM-TV reported.
Prosecutors say the half-hour ordeal in March included interrogation and staged torture using power tools.
They said masked congregation members bound the teens, placed pillowcases over their heads and drove them in a van to the parsonage on the church grounds, where the men pretended to torture Jordan.
Prosecutors said some children knew of the staged event in advance, but others who weren't members of the church didn't know it was a simulation.
One of the visiting children, a 14-year-old girl, told authorities she received a cut to her lip and bruises to her legs and feared she would be raped during the exercise, according to court documents. Her mother filed a complaint with police, prompting the investigation.
Glad Tidings pastor John Lanza said in March that the church was "so saddened" that anyone had been traumatized during the event but added that other youth from the church sent emails of support. The church is about 10 miles outside Harrisburg.
Lanza said at the time that the goal of the exercise was to prepare the youth for what they might encounter as missionaries in foreign countries. He didn't disclose the names of those involved but said the mock kidnappers included an off-duty police officer and a retired Army captain.