DOUGLAS Earl Kersey, inset above – a member of a church youth group in Hillsborough County, Florida – stands accused of using a Bible app to secretly reach out to underage girls.
According to a warrant, Douglas Earl Kersey was eventually charged thanks to an observant congregation member who noticed his odd online behaviour and notified the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).
Court documents show FDLE received the tip in late September. The churchgoer told the agency Kersey was using the YouVersion Bible App so he could:
Befriend young teenage girls in their church and communicate with them online.
The Bible App’s website says:
Already installed on over 395 million unique devices all over the world, the Bible App offers a free Bible experience for smartphones, tablets, and online at Bible.com.
Our generous partners make it possible for us to offer 2,008 Bible versions in 1,349 languages for free, and without advertising.
The whistle-blower was described as a “real hero” by Reverend Russell Meyer, above, who is part of the Lutheran Parish of Tampa and heads two churches. To his knowledge, his churches are not involved in this case.
He said of the app:
Unfortunately it’s not surprising. There’s a world of nasty people who want young children and open platforms give them an open door to them. So simply to say ‘well it’s a Bible program, nothing could go wrong’ misunderstands who is allowed to use them.I’m really happy to actually hear about the intervention that happened because too often we hear about something terrible that happened to a child too late.
Said Detective Theresa Grooms, who worked the case for Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office:
It was unheard of for me and I’ve been with the sheriff’s office 21 years and been an investigator, school resource deputy. I did not even know that they could friend request and converse on that app.
The tipster learned Kersey was a registered sex offender after looking up his name. She told investigators Kersey’s list of friends consisted mostly of young females. The girls in her church group who accepted his friend requests are all minors.
It was very concerning. You have young ladies that are meeting in a youth group to study the Bible, study the church activities and you have a registered sex offender who has projected himself into that group.
The FDLE researched Kersey and discovered he failed to comply with one of the 22 legal rules and regulations sex offenders sign and acknowledge they will adhere to. According to the court documents, Kersey did not disclose any email addresses, websites, and profiles to social media accounts he was using, including the Bible App. Failure to report the information is a third degree felony.
Kersey admitted to HCSO and FDLE investigators he did not tell them about a gmail account he was using. He also admitted to actively using the Bible App. Investigators found the app open on his phone after he agreed to a search.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office will not name the church involved because of its interpretation of Marsy’s Law. The agency is looking into whether there are any other apps Kersey may have used to illegal communicate with minors.