'Horrendous.' Norwalk church youth leader accused of abusing kids over several years
A youth leader at a Norwalk church is accused of sexually abusing two children at the house of worship over several years.
Jean Bernard, 44, is charged with two counts of sexual assault, three counts of risk of injury to a minor, and tampering with a witness.
The Shelton man was a member of Mont des Oliviers Seventh Day Adventist Church in Norwalk for over a decade. Court documents listed him as a caretaker of the building and someone who worked closely with kids in the "Pathfinder Club," a group similar to the Boy Scouts.
Norwalk police said they began investigating Bernard last month after the Special Victims Unit received numerous complaints that he was involved in inappropriate contact with children. That led to Bernard's arrest Tuesday. Police said he was taken into custody without incident.
"Anytime a child in the city of Norwalk in the city is impacted, and in this case more than one, our investigators take it very seriously," Norwalk police Sgt. Sofia Gulino said.
Bernard's warrants detailed graphic allegations from two victims. One victim, a 10-year-old boy, told police Bernard had been sexually assaulting him every other week at the church since he was six or seven-years-old. The alleged abuse took place in the men's bathroom and other areas without cameras while the rest of the congregation was in the sanctuary.
The second victim, who is now 18, told police Bernard started sexually abusing him in 2010 when he was about six and continued until 2019 when the victim was 16.
During Bernard's arraignment Wednesday, Assistant State's Attorney Michelle Manning said, "The allegations are, in one word, horrendous."
Manning told the court that when Bernard learned he was under investigation, he contacted the second victim and told him not to speak with police. She also said more charges are expected as police continue to investigate other claims. Court documents identified two other possible victims.
"There are more kids in there that have been molested by this man," confirmed one church member who asked to remain anonymous.
The church member alleged there were previous complaints about Bernard to the church board but nothing was ever done.
"I'm so disturbed by the whole thing," she said. "I want the public to know that regardless of religion or regardless of race, that these children should've been protected," she said. "Our job as church members is not to hide behind the image of our church. That's not important right now. It's these children."
News 12 reached out to church leaders for comment but has not heard back. In Bernard's warrant, church leaders told police he is not allowed at the church until he's cleared of the allegations.
Bernard's bond was set at $700,000 dollars, well above what the state asked for.
Police encourage anyone with additional information to contact Sgt. Nate Paulino by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 203-854-3163 or Sgt. David Orr by email at email@example.com or by phone at 203-854-3008, of the Norwalk Police Department Special Victim's Unit.
Sister of 15-year-old killed by Bridgeport officer says fight for justice will continue after settlement