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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A Youth Minister's Downfall Is Tearing First Christian Church of Florissant Apart

Posted By on Wed, May 6, 2015 at 8:00 AM

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Dawn Varvil met Brandon Milburn the summer of 2006, a year after he joined the intern staff at FCCF's children's ministry. He'd arrived in St. Louis to pursue an associate's degree at St. Louis Christian College, just a ten-minute drive from FCCF's sprawling, fourteen-acre campus in the heart of Florissant.

Founded in 1958 by the followers of the American Restoration Movement, the church is an evangelical, nondenominational center of religious and communal life in this north-county suburb. Attendance at the main Sunday service regularly tops 1,000, and worship features a drummer, bassist, guitarist, keyboard player and three vocalists. When Steve Wingfield delivers his sermon, his face is splashed across two giant projection screens.

Milburn quickly gained a reputation within the FCCF community — and initially, it was a positive one. He could preach, sing, play guitar or hammer away on a piano. He knew his way around graphic design, and could run stage productions: anything from highly technical concerts to children's plays. Best of all, he seemed to be looking, always, for ways of bringing the word of Christ to kids.

"He was cool; all the kids loved him and related to him," Varvil recalls. Even the troubled ones: "There were always kids that would sneak out to the back property of the church. They weren't too interested in participating in the church programs. That's where Brandon and I first connected, because I had a heart for those kids. He seemed to as well."

Milburn's place in the FCCF community brought him into the lives of Jacob and Carrie Anderson, members of the church for more than a decade. They regularly hosted luncheons for FCCF members, which is where they began to bond with the fresh-faced college student from Louisville.

"He gave our kids gifts," Jacob says. "He was a big University of Kentucky fan. He took [Harris] to a UK basketball game, to his parents' home. We got to know his parents."

Though he had a dorm room on campus, Milburn basically moved into the Anderson's home in the fall of 2007, staying there until he received his associate's degree several months later. During that time he took eleven-year-old Harris to Cardinals games and joined the family on outings and vacations.

"For us, it was like he became a part of the family, that he was a brother," Carrie says. "It didn't occur to us that it was favoritism, or that he was grooming our son. When you accept somebody into your home like that, that's how brothers treat each other."

"Looking back," Jacob adds, "you see a lot of things clearer."

Milburn nabbed another paid position at FCCF in 2008, a six-month internship under middle school ministry leader Titus Benton. The 40-hour-per-week internship paid $8 an hour and involved Milburn working with fourth and fifth graders.

"We had a great student-ministry team. Brandon was part of that," Benton says.

But it was around this time that Milburn began molesting Harris Anderson, as well as his friend Adam Krauss. According to the criminal indictment, between June 2007 and March 2008, Milburn violated the two boys multiple times; he took advantage of the Anderson family's generosity to prey on Harris, repeatedly, in their own home. The two boys, close childhood friends, told no one what had happened, not even each other.

Milburn earned an associate's degree from St. Louis Christian College in 2007, and after his six-month church internship ended, he returned to Louisville. There he immediately found a full-time job as an "atmosphere and media tech" at his home church, the 20,000-member Southeast Christian Church.

But Milburn seemed to have a restless side. After five months in Louisville he returned to Florissant in April 2009 to pursue a bachelor's degree in preaching at his alma mater.

His desire for that degree confused Doug Lay, an FCCF member who'd been Milburn's professor and mentor at St. Louis Christian College.

"First, he's unbelievably talented, and he had a job at a church with 20,000 people," Lay says. "Number two, he was a terrible student. He's a very good public speaker, but he could barely write your standard research paper. So I said, 'Brandon, you don't need a bachelor's degree! Why would you come back?'"

In hindsight, the answer seems clear to Lay.

"I think he came back because the victims were still there."

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