A Florida church is now grappling with “shock” and loss after their former senior pastor, the Rev. Bryan Fulwider, who was facing allegations that he repeatedly raped a teenage girl while he was her pastor, killed himself at home on Sunday.
“Our church family is in shock and we are trying to absorb the impact of all the events that have transpired in recent weeks. For now, all we can do is pray for Bryan’s family and for the victim and at some point, find a path to healing,” said Shawn Garvey, senior minister at First Congregational Church of Winter Park where Fulwider last served, in a statement shared with The Christian Post on Tuesday.
Emergency crews were called to Fulwider’s Altamonte Springs home at about 11:50 p.m. Sunday where he was pronounced dead, ASPD spokeswoman Michelle Sosa told the Tampa Bay Times. The Medical Examiner’s Office for Seminole County has since ruled the death a suicide.
Fulwider, 59, who also co-founded a weekly radio show in 2012 called "Friends Talking Faith With the Three Wise Guys," was arrested and charged earlier this month with 30 counts of sexual battery of a person younger than 18, between 2005 and 2010, according to an arrest warrant issued by the Winter Park Police Department, the Orlando Weekly reported.
He had been out on bail since Oct. 17.
It was alleged that Fulwider raped the girl more than 100 times beginning when she was 14, and started grooming her at 13 while she attended First Congregational Church of Winter Park, which is a progressive congregation.
“When you walk through the doors at First Congregational Church, you’ll find a community of people that warmly and genuinely welcome all, regardless of religious tradition, sexual orientation, marital situation, financial or social status. This is a church that abundantly welcomes everyone around the table. First Congregational Church is a home for all who seek to explore and feed their spirit through who they are and what they do … together,” the church explains on their website.
Prosecutors cited by Tampa Bay Times said their case against Fulwider was “extremely strong,” due to a nearly hourlong recorded call between Fulwider and his accuser, in which he admitted his accuser was a victim and he was a predator in the “eyes of the law.”
Fulwider, however, appeared to justify his actions by suggesting his accuser as a girl was just “too damn mature for your own good.”
“(T)here was never anything salacious or bad about it and you were always too damn mature for your own good and I have always loved you,” police noted he said on the call. “It wasn’t like I was off hunting people. It was a connection.”
In a statement to the Orlando Sentinel Monday, Fulwider’s accuser said she wasn’t shocked by his suicide.
“Fulwider’s day in court will never come because he knew all the truths I could tell,” the woman wrote.
“My story doesn’t stop with his cowardice through; I will work in the coming months to get justice for myself and any other victims impacted by Fulwider’s abuse. I’m thinking of Fulwider’s other victims and hope they are well tonight,” she added.
Fulwider had not been charged by police of abusing anyone else at the time of his death, but detectives investigating whether there could be additional victims have asked anyone with information about the case or who might have been victimized by Fulwider to call 407-599-3211.
The accused pastor’s attorney, Jacob V. Stuart Jr., previously noted that he and his client “vehemently deny each and every allegation that has been made against him.”
If he was convicted of the charges, Fulwider would have faced a sentenced of life in prison. He had pleaded not guilty.