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Local worship leader charged with soliciting child, violating sex offender registry | #childpredator | #kidsaftey | #childsaftey


Oct. 19—A former member of Grace River Community Church in Decatur said Tuesday that he left the church after one of its leaders was arrested and charged with electronic solicitation of a child and violating the Sex Offenders Registration and Community Notification Act.

“It seems to me that a background check would’ve caught this,” said Josh Harris, 38, of Decatur. “It blew me away. How did this happen? How did this guy get around my children?”

The defendant is 51-year-old John Justin McCall, of Madison, and authorities said he was arrested on the charges after a multi-agency investigation, including assistance from the Department of Homeland Security and the Decatur Police Department, that ended with a search of his residence by the Madison Police Department on Oct. 11.

McCall failed to register his sex offender status with the Madison Police Department when he moved to Evalyn Street in Madison on or around Jan. 25, according to an investigator’s affidavit filed in Madison County District Court on Monday. State law requires people who have been convicted of a sex offense to register their address and their place of employment.

Madison police did not say when or where the prior sex-offense conviction alleged to be the basis of his Sex Offenders Registration and Community Notification Act (SORNA) charge took place.

The investigator alleges McCall, between June and August, tried to meet with a child online “for the purpose of engaging in a sexual performance, an obscene sexual performance, or sexual conduct for his/her benefit.”

A LinkedIn profile for McCall lists his position with Grace River Community Church, located at 2018 Cleveland Ave. S.W., as “worship pastor” since July 2022. His duties included overseeing youth groups and teaching new songs, according to the profile.

The profile also says McCall was responsible for computer safety training for youths and for complying “with all Alabama state licensing and local regulations for health and safety, including all criminal background checks and child abuse index.”

Harris began attending the church after he and his 16-year-old daughter, with whom he plays music, were invited to be part of the worship team led by McCall. Everything seemed fine, he said, until McCall’s arrest.

“That’s what was so scary about it,” he said. “I’ve been to many churches around here over the course of my life, and I remember having to take a background check just to help with the kitchen one time at a church. I didn’t think anything of it.”

Harris said that when he asked church leaders if they had run a background check on McCall, they told him no.

“The reason was that he did a 10-year stint at the Ark Encounter in Kentucky or something,” Harris said. “Kind of scary that he got through that, too, you know?”

The Ark Encounter is a creationist theme park in Williamstown, Kentucky. McCall’s LinkedIn page notes that he sang daily at the park with Steve Hess and Southern Salvation, a Christian music group, between 2012 and 2022.

“I was not part of the youth services, but my daughter said that McCall was,” Harris said. “He was there when they were at youth service all the time. To my knowledge, it was never just him alone with anybody or anything like that.”

Harris said he had decided to give church another try after a two-year hiatus. He had only been attending Grace River for about a month and a half before McCall’s arrest. He said nobody in the congregation saw it coming.

“Church is supposed to be a spot for the broken, a spot where you can be vulnerable,” he said. “It’s just sickening as a family that has seen firsthand what that kind of abuse can do. Just knowing that and then knowing it’s in the church, the place where most people would go for help with that, that bothered me a lot.”

Harris said he was also bothered by the silence of lead pastor Barry Sempsrott in the aftermath.

“I believe it’s important to kind of stand against stuff like this and even making a statement — I think it’s important for people to know they’re safe in church, but also think it’s important that people know you won’t put up with this,” he said.

Harris said the response, or lack thereof, by church leaders played a role in his decision to leave the congregation.

Sempsrott did not answer calls but responded by text to inquiries about McCall with a Bible verse.

“Gal 6:1-3 nothing else to say,” the text said.

Galatians 6 describes restoring those who have sinned and carrying the burdens of others.

“This could’ve been way worse,” Harris said. “There are good people in the church, and they didn’t do this. At the same time, this is just something you can’t not talk about.”

There are over 16,000 sex offenders in the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s (ALEA) Sex Offender Registry. According to ALEA, offenders must report to their local law enforcement office every three months for registration. Local law enforcement then forwards that information to the ALEA repository. McCall’s name is not on the Alabama registry.

Sex offenders convicted outside of Alabama may not be subject to ALEA’s sex offender registry until after a “due process hearing,” according to ALEA’s website.

Records show McCall was booked into Madison County Jail after his arrest and held in lieu of a $43,000 bond. He was released from jail Tuesday.

[email protected] or 256-340-2438.



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