Sunday, October 23, 2005


Rape suspect still on paid leave

Columbia, S.C. - The First Baptist Church of Columbia student minister charged with raping a girl three years ago at Pawleys Island remains on paid leave while his case has yet to go before a grand jury.

Kenneth “Tripp” Atkinson, 31, of Columbia was charged in August with first-degree criminal sexual conduct by the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office.

Atkinson was charged with raping a 13-year-old Surfside Beach girl when he was the youth minister at Pawleys Island Community Church. He was released on $30,000 bail and ordered not to contact the girl.

First Baptist Church of Columbia hired Atkinson on March 14, 2004. Its background check showed no criminal record.

Atkinson has worshipped at First Baptist since the allegation surfaced, said attorney and church spokesman Bryan Barnes.

“I understand he was very warmly greeted,” he said. “Everybody I talked to at church has been very supportive of him.”

Other church staff members are working with the youth at First Baptist to continue their activities and ensure their needs are being met, Barnes said.

Atkinson’s attorney, Sherri Lydon of Columbia, said her client “is as fine and godly a man as I have ever known.”

“He is showing amazing strength and dignity throughout this nightmare he is experiencing, and he finds that strength in his faith,” she said.

The case is being prosecuted by the 15th Circuit Solicitor’s Office.

“We are confident once authorities look at all the evidence, they will make the right decision,” Lydon said.

John Windham, an elder at the Pawleys Island church, said he has had no contact with Atkinson but prays “that the truth comes out.”

Efforts to reach Nate Fata, the Surfside Beach attorney representing the victim, were unsuccessful Thursday and Friday.

See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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