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Durango church youth leader arrested in connection with sexual assaults

Lead pastor says Preston Edward Pitcher terminated from position
Pitcher

A youth leader at the First Baptist Church of Durango has been arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting multiple victims over the course of several years.

The Durango Police Department arrested Preston Edward Pitcher, 38, on three counts of unlawful sexual contact without consent after three victims came forward. Pitcher’s attorney, Joel Fry, declined to comment Thursday.

According to an arrest affidavit, Durango police on June 11 received a report of a possible sexual assault after First Baptist Church lead pastor Jimmy Thoma reported to authorities that a youth member was touched inappropriately by Pitcher, who had worked for the church for 10 years.

“Since the initial report, multiple victims have stepped forward to advise that Preston has also done this to them,” the investigating officer wrote.

The victims’ names, ages and genders were redacted from the court records. It was unclear whether they were minors at the time of the alleged incidents.

According to court records, the incidents were similar in that Pitcher met the alleged victims in his role as a youth leader, befriended them and then made sexual advances. None of the incidents occurred at church-sanctioned events, Thoma said.

Pitcher allegedly invited the victims into his home, and they agreed to stay the night. Some of the victims said they trusted Pitcher, and one thought of him as a “third parent.”

The victims claimed Pitcher groped them while they slept and touched them under their clothing.

Several incidents allegedly occurred during overnight trips out of town. One victim told authorities Pitcher “manipulated the situation so they had to sleep in a bed together.”

“(The victims) never told anyone about what happened to them and thought they were the only ones Preston had done this to,” the investigating officer wrote.

The incidents allegedly occurred in 2016, 2018 and 2020. The most recent victim spurred the two others to come forward, according to police records.

The Durango Police Department spoke with Pitcher on June 22.

Initially, Pitcher told authorities he was asleep and not aware of his actions during one of the incidents, and did not deny it happened. He also admitted to similar acts in the past.

“Eventually, Preston was honest and admitted that he was not asleep and had touched (the victims),” the officer wrote. “Preston stated that he was aroused during these times.”

Pitcher was arrested and taken to the La Plata County Jail on $1,500 bail. He has since posted bail. Durango Police Department Cmdr. Rita Warfield declined to comment further about the investigation.

Sixth Judicial District Attorney Christian Champagne said Pitcher had not entered a plea as of Thursday and is scheduled for a court appearance Aug. 28.

Lead pastor Thoma, speaking to The Durango Herald, said he learned about the alleged incidents June 11 and notified police that day.

Pitcher was immediately suspended, then terminated the next day, Thoma said.

The church conducts background checks and has protocols for staff relationships with church members. But recent events have caused leaders to re-examine those policies.

“We try to do as best as we can, but always we should and need to get better,” he said.

Thoma said counseling, as well as any resources requested, have been offered to the victims. He said the church is “fairly confident” it has identified all potential victims.

“We want to protect and provide for any of the victims that are involved in this,” he said. “We’re trying to walk with as much truth and honesty and openness as we can. We don’t want to sweep this under the rug.”

Pitcher’s bio has been removed from First Baptist Church’s website.

But according to archives, Pitcher grew up in Durango and attended the youth group at First Baptist Church. He graduated Durango High School and spent two years ministering youths in Hawaii, Los Angeles and the Philippines.

He also served on mission trips in Guatemala, Peru and Mexico before graduating Fort Lewis College in 2006.

Thoma said Pitcher was a youth leader at First Baptist Church for about 10 years.

“We’re trying to care for our church and care for our families,” Thoma said. “Everyone just wants to love the victims, and come together as a church during this tragedy we’re experiencing.”

Pitcher also worked at Riversage Family Counseling for about a year. Clinical director Lillian Ramey said Pitcher was put on administrative leave as soon as accusations arose, and he was formally terminated last week.

“We followed up with all of his clients,” she said. “And nothing has been reported to police through us.”

jromeo@durangoherald.com

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