River Forest minister accused of molesting boy over several years

RIVER FOREST, Ill. (WLS) -- A minister on staff at a River Forest church accused of molesting a boy over several years appeared in court Friday.

Chicago police arrested Reverend John Hays, 57, on Thursday. He has been charged with aggravated criminal sexual abuse.

The alleged abuse took place in his home in the Austin neighborhood from 2003 to 2009. Police said it began when the boy was 8 years old. The victim, who is now 19, reported the alleged abuse to police last month.

Church board member Kevin Murphy says Hays notified the River Forest church that he was being investigated for the crime last month and was promptly terminated from his role as director of congregational life. He was not involved with either the children's or youth ministries, still members of the congregation were notified about the investigation within days of Hays' departure from the church, Murphy said.

"Any allegation or incident of child abuse is very upsetting to all concerned. And this is a very serious situation that's very upsetting to me personally. It's very upsetting to our entire congregation," said Murphy.

We're told that neither the boy nor his family were members of the church in River Forest and that Hays started work at the First Presbyterian Church of River Forest around 2009 - after the alleged abuse took place.

Hays was also a board member at First Presbyterian Church for the last five years. The father of five, and former pastor, was around children through his Christian outreach teachings for years.

The victim, court documents reveal, was a neighbor and friend of Hays' own sons and would often come over Hays' house to play computer games. Neighbors say many kids on the 5800-block of West Race Street in the Austin neighborhood came to the Hays home to play with a trampoline in the back yard.

"We throw block club parties every year. We are all down here, even from 5700 they come all the way down. We have a very nice - this is a nice block, and we have a pedophile," said Latania Lawrence.

The victim came forward after going through a training program on how to respond to signs of sexual abuse while becoming a camp counselor. Prosecutors say that training sparked his own abusive memories. When the victim told his family, they allegedly confronted Hays, and Hays admitted touching the boy.


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