Youth Minister Arrested on Sex Charges
Church volunteer Marshal Seymour is accused of abusing teen boys.
By Dana Willhoit
November 4, 2007
LAKELAND | Marshal Seymour, a 40-year-old, married volunteer youth minister at the First Baptist Church at the Mall, turned himself in at the Polk County Jail late Friday night after a warrant was issued for his arrest on charges of sexually abusing several teenage boys he met through the church.
Seymour is being held in lieu of $325,000 bail on three counts of using a child in sexual performance, one charge of unlawful sexual activity with a minor and one count of tampering with evidence.
According to Lakeland police, Seymour had been convicted of misdemeanor battery in Mobile, Ala., under similar circumstances. Seymour was employed as a youth pastor at the Parkway Assembly of God and was arrested in November 1998 on charges of sexual abuse and sodomy on a 16-year-old boy. The sodomy charge was dropped and Seymour was convicted of battery and sentenced to one year in jail followed by one year of probation, but the jail sentence was suspended, Sgt. Gary Gross said.
"He did exactly what he did here in Mobile, Alabama," Gross said. "Sexual predators tend to be wanderers. They move from one location to another."
In 1999, Seymour moved to Lakeland and began volunteering at the First Baptist Church at the Mall.
The church did a background check on him, which did not show the misdemeanor battery charge from Alabama, Gross said.
The investigation started two weeks ago when a young man came forward and told police what happened to him, Gross said. "He didn't want anyone else to be victimized," Gross said.
The victim met Seymour through Seymour's volunteer work at the church and also worked for Seymour at the business he owned, the Fire Equipment Safety Center.
According to a Lakeland police report, on Sept. 26, 2006, when the victim was 17 years old, Seymour obtained a hotel room at the Safar Inn on East Memorial Boulevard and offered for the youth to take a shower there before he went to work. The teenager told police that Seymour began rubbing his shoulders and then performed a sex act on him. When the youth began "freaking out," he told police, Seymour offered him $400 to be quiet about it.
When Seymour talked to police he admitted to having 10 sexual encounters over the previous year with the teen. Seymour said when he was in the hotel room with the teen, "curiosity got the best of him," so he performed the sexual act on the teenager, according to the police report.
Another victim, who is currently 17, told police that in the spring of 2006 when he was 16, he met Seymour at work and Seymour offered him $250 to expose and measure his penis. On another occasion, Seymour was driving the youth home and he encouraged him to masturbate in the car, according to police.
Another teenage male victim, 15, told police that within the past year Seymour offered to pay for his ice cream if he would expose and fondle himself in front of Seymour.
On Oct. 22, according to a police report, Seymour went to the Safar Inn and asked an employee there to delete his name from the computer. He told the employee that the police were coming to get the information, and said, "When this is all over with I'll give you something."
That led to the evidence tampering charge.
'grief and sorrow'
Pastor Jay Dennis and Timothy Parcheta Sr., executive director of the First Baptist Church at the Mall, held a news conference Saturday afternoon to discuss the arrest.
| Pastor Jay Dennis of First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland talks about the arrest of Marshal Seymour on Saturday. Seymour turned himself in to police. [Photo by David Mills, The Ledger]
"Today we stand in sorrow, anger, grief and outrage. We are troubled, devastated and shocked by the details of what we have learned," Dennis said. "What has happened here is every pastor's worst nightmare. I stand before you with a broken heart for every victim and each victim's family. As pastor they are my first priority. At some point I hope to personally meet with any victim and their families to offer any help we possibly can, including counseling."
Dennis said Seymour was a popular member of the church who never gave anyone a reason to suspect him of inappropriate behavior. Dennis' own son had worked for Seymour at Seymour's business, he said.
Last month The Ledger printed a profile of Seymour as a successful business owner. In it, he talked about attending Bible college here in 1999 and said he loved Lakeland so much that he returned to open a business.
He also made frequent references to children, talking about the teens he mentored, how he gave demonstrations at schools during fire safety week, and how he wanted to open a skate park to serve the city's youth.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, who attends First Baptist Church at the Mall, said it's everyone's responsibility to watch out for predators.
"You know the famous quote from the bank robber Willie Sutton when they asked him why he robbed banks. He said, 'Because that's where the money is.' Why do you find all these predators at church? Well, that's where the children are," Judd said Saturday night. "Any place that children are, pedophiles and predators are not far behind."
Seymour is married and has a 9-year-old son. His wife, Susan, moved here with Seymour from Alabama, Gross said. Gross said the boy had been interviewed and is not thought to be a victim.
A message left at Seymour's home seeking comment from his wife was not returned Saturday night.
[ Dana Willhoit can be reached at email@example.com or 863-533-9079. ]
Church volunteer in Lakeland accused of having sex with boys, St. Petersburg Times, 11/5/07
Church youth volunteer investigated, The Ledger, 10/29/07
Pastor again hit with sex charges, Alabama Press-Register, 11/5/07
Sexual abuse scandal hits prominent Southern Baptist church in Florida, EthicsDaily, 11/6/07
Accusations follow minister across 3 states, Alabama Press-Register, 11/7/07
Mother: Minister got off lightly, Alabama Press-Register, 11/7/07
SNAP Note: First Baptist Church at the Mall is an SBC-affiliated church.