- The Long Road to New Bethany and Back
By Rebecca Catalanello | Photos and Video by Kathleen Flynn
The above expose’ is the most amazing piece of journalism I’ve read about child sexual abuse when no one has been charged with a crime. The reporters followed us around for days and went with us to the Bienville Parish Sheriff’s Office. BPSO refused to take Jennifer’s statement because Sheriff Ballance was mad as an old wet hen. He knew the reporters caught his actions and Ballance gave them an interview.
Jennifer Halter remembers seeing her mother wipe her eyes as she steered the car.
“What’s wrong, Mom?” asked Halter, then 14.
“Nothing,” said her mom.
The road to the small town seemed to stretch forever.
On a Wednesday night last December, five women gathered in Room 723 of the Sam’s Town Hotel and Casino in Shreveport.
The first time it happened, Halter says, she had asked to go to the bathroom.
Fifty miles east of Shreveport, wind whipped through the nearly empty parking lot outside the Arcadia courthouse. Temperatures hovered in the mid-30s.
You are not alone | Speaking with the survivors of New Bethany
- More than a decade after the closing of New Bethany Home for Girls, women are coming forward with tales of physical and emotional mistreatment, and sexual abuse.
- Reporters approach New Bethany founder Mack Ford.
- Bienville Parish Sheriff John Ballance remembers a runaway from New Bethany.
- Former New Bethany resident Teresa Frye brings abuse allegations to light.
- Heaven or Hell? Thirty years of turmoil at New Bethany
In late December of 1991, a 20-year-old woman [ Shannon Mary Scott Sims ] sat down in a room with a cassette recorder and two other women more than twice her age.
Tell us everything that happened, one of the older women [ Nora Carter Shepherd ] said. Then she pressed a button to record.
Shannon [Mary] Scott [Sims] says she did as she was told. In five years living at New Bethany Home for Girls in Arcadia, La., that was one thing she knew to do.
For three decades starting in the early 1970s, New Bethany took girls no one wanted. It was the outreach ministry of Mack Ford, a high school dropout who worked for a time as a tire repairman before he said he heard God’s call to preach.
Tara Cummings had just turned 12 when she arrived at New Bethany in 1982 after law enforcement was notified that her adoptive father, a minister, had severely beaten her, records show.
Because Scott [ Shannon Mary Scott Sims ] won’t talk about the details of that taped interview in 1991, it’s not clear what New Bethany leaders knew or suspected when they closed the home, albeit temporarily.
Shannon Scott says the other person who was in the room at the time she gave her report was Nora Carter. She’s 72 now, goes by Nora Carter Shepherd, lives in Indiana and said she can’t figure out why women who were residents at New Bethany can’t stop dwelling on what happened to them there.
- Key Events in the History of New Bethany
1971 – New Bethany Home for Girls is founded in Arcadia, La., by Mack Ford, a preacher with the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church denomination.
Through 2014 – January: A fourth woman in Massilon, Ohio, confirms making a report to her local law enforcement claiming sexual abuse by Mack Ford.
Teresa Frye knows that what she is about to say could make some people angry but she needs to say it anyway. “It’s wrong,” the 46-year-old says in her North Carolina twang, “for me to say that it’s perfectly acceptable for an adult survivor of sexual abuse to stay silent about what happened to them.”
The girl rose from the ditch like an animal in headlights.
In 32 years, Ralph and Elizabeth Jordan haven’t forgotten the sight.
“We just saw a kid,” Elizabeth Jordan remembers. “I thought if she was desperate enough to come out of the ditch, something was wrong.”
Rebecca Silva was 14 that August night she decided to run. She had been at New Bethany about a year.
Reporter Rebecca Catalanello and photojournalist Kathleen Flynn, both of NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, spent Dec. 4 to 7, 2013, in Shreveport with Halter and several other women as they set out for the Bienville Parish Sheriff’s Office, where Halter made her report, and later, to New Bethany Home for Girls.