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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

Page 4 of 8

According to victims and their families, Milburn's pattern was to single out one or two boys, and then spoil them with gifts, attention and Cardinals outings before abusing them.
  • According to victims and their families, Milburn's pattern was to single out one or two boys, and then spoil them with gifts, attention and Cardinals outings before abusing them.

Nathan Rayner is sitting in a booth at a St. Louis Bread Company (As with the other abuse victims quoted in this story, Rayner is not his real name.) As he lays out his history with Milburn, he uses roughly the same tone most people would use to describe the steps to make a salad. Dawn Varvil sits across the table, interjecting occasional details.

As Rayner tells it, Milburn first contacted him through Facebook when he was thirteen. He'd heard of Milburn through his churchgoing friends, so it's not like the college-aged man was a total stranger. Still, Rayner recalls, "He started asking me questions, started getting kind of personal. I didn't care. I was a sad kid — somebody cares, you know?"

Eventually, Milburn convinced Rayner to attend a service at FCCF. "I went back the next week, told him I wanted to get baptized," Rayner says.

Soon, Rayner was hanging around Milburn all the time, mostly at Varvil's house, joining the roughly 30 to 40 kids who made the home their unofficial hangout. It was a safe place, he says, away from a mother and stepdad who regularly threw him out of the house.

Over the next year, Milburn and Rayner became inseparable, and the pattern established with the Andersons repeated itself: Milburn drove Rayner to church, treated him to Cardinals games and bought him gifts, including an iPad and iPhone. Milburn sent him constant text messages.

"I was kind of blinded," Rayner says.

When friends would bring up Milburn's doting, he blew them off. "So he likes me better than you, whatever, I don't care," Rayner would tell them.

At Varvil's house, sleepovers were common, with as many as 30 teens spending the night after devotions, dinner and a movie. Girls and boys slept in separate parts of the house. Yet even when there was spare room, Milburn insisted on sleeping head-to-foot on a hideaway bed with Rayner.

"One night he was actually spooning me. I was asleep, and I remember feeling something down here, on my leg," Rayner says. "I woke up and I feel him getting closer to my dick. I was frozen with fear, I didn't know what to do. He did that for a few seconds and then he stopped. I think he realized I was awake, and he just broke down in tears, saying, like, 'Oh my God, I'm so sorry, I did not mean to do that.'"

Rayner remembers Milburn sitting up on the couch, crying and apologizing. When Rayner told him it wasn't a big deal, Milburn stopped crying. "Did you like it?" he asked.

Rayner's response: "No, dude, no. Don't let it happen again." It didn't — and so Rayner continued to share his bed with the college student.

That summer, Milburn drove Rayner to tornado-ravaged Joplin, where about 40 other FCCF members had arrived to assist in the cleanup effort and to distribute aid. The church elder who led the mission, Scott Seppelt, witnessed Milburn and Rayner sleeping away from the main group.

In an email to another church member, Seppelt would later report sharing his concerns with Steve Wingfield upon his return to Florissant.

"When I led the mission trip to Joplin, where Brandon brought a young boy and slept away from everyone else, I talked with Brandon about this the night it happened. He stated that the boy was shy and would move out where others could see them," Seppelt wrote. "Upon returning I shared this with Steve.... I wish I had done more."

Wingfield took no action against Milburn.

But it was around this time that Varvil got fed up. By the end of the summer of 2011, she told Milburn she'd had enough of his excuses. He could continue to sleep over at the house, but he couldn't sleep with Rayner.

"All of a sudden," Varvil says, "he started looking for an apartment."

Milburn found his own place in October, two blocks from Rayner's home. A different FCCF family helped Milburn move in and bought him appliances and furniture. Milburn gave Rayner a spare key.

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