Mark Heotzler, former pastor of Grace Chapel Community Church, faces pedophilia charges

JEFFERSON TOWNSHIP, Pa. (WKBN) – A young pastor who once worked at Mercer is accused of betraying the trust of his flock. A man who was a youth pastor at a church in Mercer County faces pedophilia charges involving several young victims.

First News spoke with a psychiatrist about the mental effects this may have on victims.

According to a criminal complaint, 29-year-old Mark Heotzler is accused of sexually abusing at least 11 victims under the age of 18 from 2015 to 2021, at various locations in Jefferson Township.

Heotzler was the youth pastor at Grace Chapel Community Church in Hermitage for five years, from 2014 to 2019.

Investigators say Heotzler engaged in sexual activity with the victims, exchanged nude photos of himself in various sexual circumstances and requested nude photos from some of the victims.

The investigation into Heotzler’s behavior began in January 2021. A criminal complaint was filed Tuesday. He faces 26 counts, including sexual assault, child pornography, criminal solicitation, dissemination of explicit material to a minor, bribery of minors and illegal contact with a minor, among other charges. .

Much of the communication and photos were exchanged with the victims via Snapchat.

Investigators say Heotzler admitted numerous charges and said the behavior was due to his “sexual desire,” according to the criminal complaint.

Heotzler currently lives in Chambersburg, a town in south-central Pennsylvania in Franklin County.

He is currently imprisoned in Franklin County, near Harrisburg, where he faces additional charges.

According to an article posted on the Grace Chapel Community Church website in April 2019, Heotzler left his post there to take up a post at a church in south-central Pennsylvania. He didn’t name the church.

In this article, Heotzler wrote, “I look forward to continuing to grow as a leader and in new opportunities to serve adolescents and families. “

In a statement from Grace Chapel Community Church, Senior Pastor Aaron Lego said they have fully cooperated with an active and ongoing criminal investigation.

Lego says they can’t give more information now, but are committed to fixing this issue with everyone affected.

Many people across the country have experienced such crimes, and experts say the traumatic effects can lead to a long road to recovery.

“An event like this that unfolds in a child’s life is more than likely to accompany it throughout its life,” said Dr. Mark Matta, a certified psychiatrist at New Castle.

Dr Matta says it’s hard for young victims to tell anyone.

“A lot of people of these ages feel like it’s their fault that they got into this situation. They don’t know how to handle it, ”he said.

While it can be a lasting trauma for some, Dr Matta says there are ways to overcome it. He suggests speaking to a counselor or joining a support group.

“What someone has to do in these contexts is learn to process and identify what has happened,” said Dr Matta, “how to deal with the emotions that come with it”.

Norma P. Rex

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