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Police Storm Church, Take Children

June 14, 1988

LUCEDALE, Miss. (AP) _ Police stormed a barricaded church run by a fundamentalist minister, taking custody of some of his supporters and residents of the home for troubled youths he operated.

At least seven people, including the church’s assistant pastor, were arrested Monday at Bethel Baptist Church, authorities said.

At least three dozen children were taken from the church after about 60 state troopers, local police officers and sheriff’s deputies entered it following a four-hour standoff, witnesses said.

Law officers, who were searching for three children who returned to the home after a judge temporarily closed it, moved into the white wood-frame church after unsuccessful attempts to negotiate a settlement.

As officers entered the building, some church members sang hymns and quoted Scripture. Some asked, ″If this isn’t Nazi Germany, what is?″

The state Department of Public Welfare took custody of 11 children after they were interviewed, but it was uncertain if all had been former residents of the Bethel Home for Children.

Authorities said they took all the youngsters in the church because church officials refused to point out the three who had returned to the home after its closing.

Bethel Baptist’s pastor, the Rev. Herman Fountain, was arrested twice Monday, the first time along with two staff members and a 17-year-old after a fight broke out at the home.

The second arrest came after Fountain got involved in a shoving match with a law officer outside the courthouse.

On Friday, Chancery Judge Robert Oswald ordered all the residents of the school temporarily placed in state custody.

Oswald ruled that the children, ages 10 to 17, had been subjected ″to physical abuse, medical neglect and detention amounting to imprisonment.″

The public welfare department removed 64 children, but many others fled the home. Twenty-two of the 64 were released over the weekend to parents or guardians, state officials said.

On Monday, Oswald began hearing the cases of the 42 youngsters placed in state custody.

Fountain refused to respond to Oswald’s questions about the whereabouts of the runaways, and the judge issued 11 subpoenas to the home’s staff members.

Fountain returned to the campus in the early afternoon and told staff members not to comply with the subpoenas.

After the shoving match, Fountain - with no shoes, his hair and clothes ruffled - was returned to court, where he told Oswald that he was sheltering three children, but would answer no other questions.

Oswald asked Fountain to help prevent ″any bloodshed or violence,″ but the Baptist minister said there was nothing he could do.

After the report of the campus fracas in which Fountain was arrested, Oswald asked that a grand jury be called to consider whether Fountain should be indicted for obstruction of justice.

Oswald said at the end of the day he had released seven children to their parents after reviewing their cases. He said they agreed not to send their children back to the school without court approval.

Earlier, Fountain said he believed the home had housed about 120 children. He said he did not know the whereabouts of those missing.

The number of children at large was unknown because Fountain refused to honor a court order to provide a list with names and addresses of the children and their parents.

Outside court, several parents said they wanted their children back in the home rather than the state’s custody.

Pat Green of Boca Raton, Fla., who said she had a 16-year-old son at Bethel, said she and her husband refused to pick him up because they did not want to sign the agreement that would bar him from returning to the home.

″Brother Fountain through Bethel saved our child’s life,″ she said. ″When a child is on drugs, you need the help of religion to get off drugs.″

State Welfare Commissioner Thomas Brittain said Saturday that medical examinations of some children showed excessive use of corporal punishment.

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