#childsafety | A teacher-turned-evangelist built a Dallas megachurch as a warrior battling Satan. It was the perfect mask to abuse members, they say

Note: This story contains depictions of sexual and physical abuse that may be disturbing.

The request seemed odd: Renee Phillips’ pastor had asked her to visit him at her old Dallas high school, where he still taught drama classes.

After all, they regularly spoke at church. But she didn’t want to disappoint the man who inspired her as much as the Bible she carried in a case over her shoulder.

It was spring break, 1996. Renee was 19. The school was deserted. She walked the long hallways to his classroom. She remembers the bells on the door jangling as she entered.

She recalls his purple suspenders as he leaned in for a long hug.

“Are you OK?” she asked.

He told her he was worried she would go off to college and never come back.

That isn’t true, she said. She loved her church too much.

Minutes later, he kissed her, grabbed her, and unzipped his pants and her shorts, she said.

“No!” she said.

He tried to penetrate her as she squeezed her legs together and told him to stop, she said.

He stepped back, apologized.

Promise me you won’t tell anyone, she recalls him saying.

She ran out, holding back tears until she got to her car.

Later that day, her mom handed her the phone.

It was him.

She couldn’t speak.

He told her Satan would plant things in her mind, she said, and she would hear voices.

He told her not to listen.

Ready to speak

Twenty-four years later, Renee, 44, said she sees the trap.

How the touching started when she was 15. The compliments and friendly hugs at church and school. The close embraces behind his office door. His tongue in her mouth during a play after the stage lights went dark, she said.

Just as gradual was his tightening grip on her young mind.

Highlighted in her Bible were Proverbs 3:5-6: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Even after the incident at the school, she believed her pastor understood God better than anyone.

He persuaded her to return to his office at the church in the evenings. To submit to him sexually, she said.

For decades Renee, now a financial counselor who is married with two children, rarely spoke of what happened. Like many sex assault survivors who take years to speak about their abuse, she feared she wouldn’t be believed.

Until one day she was moved to tears by the story of #MeToo movement founder Tarana Burke. Here was a Black woman bold enough to reveal her abuse.

Renee decided it was her time. She started writing a book. And one night, early in 2018, she shared part of her story on Facebook. Friends flooded her with support. Later, she emailed The Dallas Morning News.

Since then, The News has identified four other former congregants with abuse allegations against the pastor.

One woman alleges he repeatedly sexually abused her when she was a teenager. Three teens, now grown, say he brutally beat them with paddles.

The most devastating discovery for Renee: Her sister and nephew were among the accusers. For years they had been too afraid to confide in each other.

Renee Phillips (left) and Donna Fields, who first talked to The News in 2018, say they spoke for the first time in 20 years after Renee shared part of her story on Facebook that January.(Carly Geraci / Staff Photographer)

The News pieced together this story by reviewing hundreds of pages of documents including court depositions, police affidavits, church memos, school records, photographs, memoirs, calendars and therapists’ evaluations. More than 50 people were interviewed about various aspects of the church Renee attended.

Most people The News spoke with were too fearful to be identified as saying anything negative about the church, citing the pastor’s consistent warnings against doing so.

All once stood by him. Now they want the public to know the many faces of Pastor Rickie Rush.

Rush did not personally respond after The News detailed the allegations to him in emails and a letter.

A lawyer, Michael Heiskell, released a statement on Rush’s behalf emphasizing that some of the allegations date back decades and asked that judgment be withheld until “all of the relevant facts and circumstances are revealed.”

“These matters, upon initial review, appear to be specious claims unsupported by credible, compelling evidence,” the statement said. “Pastor Rush’s life work of Christian service and his 30 years of leading The Inspiring Body of Christ Church in its benevolent mission has stood the test of time.”

Boy preacher to megachurch leader

As he built one of the biggest churches in Texas, Rush told a tragic story.

He was 10 years old and living with his single mom in West Dallas. After school one day, he asked her to go down the street to buy him a hamburger.

He went upstairs. When she returned, he heard the front door shattering. He grabbed a .22 pistol and looked over the banister.

He saw teenage boys running out the back door. His mom lay dying on the living room floor.

“That day I witnessed my mother’s violent death,” Rush wrote in his 2014 book, The Pendulum: Come Out Swinging Through the Difficult Times. “This tragedy stayed locked in my mind, heart and head like a maimed animal snared in a trap.”

He blamed himself, blamed God.

But he persevered, he said. The relatives who raised him taught him the Bible. Grown-ups let him preach at church services. He eventually concluded Satan was behind his mom’s death. God, however, had only good in store for him, as a “future king,” Rush wrote.

After attending the University of Texas at Arlington, where he studied speech and drama, Rush married and landed a job teaching theater arts at one of Dallas’ biggest high schools, Skyline, in Pleasant Grove. He started preaching again, and in 1990 opened the Inspiring Body of Christ Church. As the congregation swelled, a month of collections could total $1 million, former members say.

Rush is 60 now. IBOC, as the church is widely known, sits on 50 acres in southern Dallas.

At its height, Inspiring Body of Christ Church boasted at least 10,000 members and could pack three services every Sunday, former churchgoers say. It sits on 50 acres and features a 75,000-gallon aquarium with sharks and stingrays.
At its height, Inspiring Body of Christ Church boasted at least 10,000 members and could pack three services every Sunday, former churchgoers say. It sits on 50 acres and features a 75,000-gallon aquarium with sharks and stingrays.(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)

Worshippers can enter the grounds on R.G. Rush Boulevard or Pastor Rush Lane. Inside, they walk through archways under a 75,000-gallon aquarium where sharks and stingrays swim. After services, congregants can watch a dive show or enjoy Sunday brunch at the Rushtaurant.

Inside a sanctuary that seats thousands, Rush doesn’t stay behind the pulpit long.

One day, he holds a chair in the air like a lion tamer, pretending to spar with evil. The next he paces the aisles with a stuffed monkey on his back; that’s what carrying a grudge looks like. Churchgoers sway, repeat his words.

Rush, promoting himself as “God’s chosen master illustrator” on YouTube, has invested in high-tech video and sound systems that can transform the sanctuary to illustrate his sermons.

“If he wants to put you in a dark alley, he can,” said former member Brandy Johnson. “If he wants to put you on streets of gold, he can put you there.”

At its height, IBOC boasted at least 10,000 members who could pack three services every Sunday, according to former churchgoers. The church also runs a school for young children. Rush vigorously promotes his ministry: He has published two books, sells sermons online and uses billboards to advertise.

Pastor Rickie Rush, who founded Inspiring Body of Christ Church in 1990, spoke during the Hope Summit at Cedar Valley College in Lancaster last February.
Pastor Rickie Rush, who founded Inspiring Body of Christ Church in 1990, spoke during the Hope Summit at Cedar Valley College in Lancaster last February.(Juan Figueroa / Staff photographer)

Rush’s public persona reaches outside the church walls. He has delivered devotional segments on local television, and appeared with Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson in August at a back-to-school event.

The congregation has dwindled in recent years, but during one January service, before the pandemic shut down large gatherings, the parking lot still held about 1,000 cars.

Satan looms large in Rush’s world. The devil is your No. 1 obstacle, he warns, an enemy on the prowl, a master of disguises. Rush once hung banners in the sanctuary stating “Satan Wants To Kill You!” — even leaving them up during a wedding.

The message can be so powerful that some say Rush and his church felt indispensable to their lives and safety. Former church members say Rush has positioned himself to be everything to everyone, from father figure to life coach to confidant. Officially, he has served not only as pastor but as couples counselor, men’s fellowship leader, choir director and adviser of teen groups.

But while he has inspired many, others say he has manipulated them to gain their admiration and trust.

Take the story of him overcoming his mother’s death.

The News obtained the 50-year-old medical examiner’s report. It shows Marie Rose Gibson did die when Rush was 10. But not from violence.

She was found in bed, dead from liver disease.

Decades-old secret

Renee works on her memoir at a cherrywood dinner table in her spacious home in a quiet Dallas suburb.

"Even when things got horrible, we knew we had each other," Renee Phillips (right) said of her childhood relationship with her half sister, Donna Fields.
“Even when things got horrible, we knew we had each other,” Renee Phillips (right) said of her childhood relationship with her half sister, Donna Fields.(Nitashia Johnson / Special Contributor)

This is her safe place, far removed from Pleasant Grove and other Dallas neighborhoods where her parents were swept up in the crack epidemic, where she bounced among relatives, where she met Rush.

As a girl, she held tightly to two things: her Christian faith and her older half sister, Donna Fields. They shared a dad who was a passionate Baptist preacher and a grandmother who touched the TV to pray with televangelists.

Sometimes they lived together, other times in separate homes with their moms. But they were best friends, staying up late to play Bible trivia and Barbies.

“Even when things got horrible,” Renee said, “we knew we had each other.”

They started drifting apart in 1988, after Donna, two years older, entered Skyline High School.

Only now does Renee know why.

Her sister has her own story to tell.

Donna’s freshman year

Donna first drew Rush’s attention when she entered his theater class as a shy high school freshman.

You remind me of my wife, Donna recalls Rush saying.

The fact that she was a preacher’s daughter made for an instant bond. She learned that Rush knew her dad through Dallas church circles. Some of her cousins sang in the Dallas Inspirational Choir that Rush formed.

The 28-year-old teacher with the round face and quick wit was popular at Skyline, former teachers and administrators said.

He seemed tuned in to teens’ lives. He played “the dozens,” a game of rapid-fire put-downs that favors the best improviser. He brought animals — from German shepherds to reptiles — to school. Daniel Salinas, a former Skyline principal, drew the line at the snakes, telling Rush they could pose a threat.

“I never got complaints,” Salinas said. “He had great communication with kids. The kids gravitated to him.”

In one yearbook photo titled “Look into my eyes,” Rush is pictured with his hands cupped around a girl’s face. He was demonstrating relaxation methods, according to the caption.

Donna said Rush put her at ease too. He arranged for her to leave other classes to help set up for plays. At lunchtime, he invited her to nearby stables to ride his horses. He would put his arm around her, tell her they were like family, she said.

Donna ate up the attention. “I started coming out of my shell,” she said.

By Donna’s sophomore year, Rush held her hands during her most trying moments — when her family moved into a cheap hotel or when she had problems with her boyfriend.

Guys were no good, she remembers Rush saying.

“I felt safe talking to him,” she said. “He would ask me about everything, even about sex, sexual positions. Nobody, not even my parents, had ever talked to me about sexuality.”

When she got pregnant at age 16, Donna’s life unraveled.

Donna Fields, who became pregnant by her boyfriend when she was 16, holds gifts from Rickie Rush during a baby shower he threw for her in his classroom at Skyline High School. After she gave birth to her son in 1991, she said, Rush gave her money — for a bassinet, clothes, rent and a car.
Donna Fields, who became pregnant by her boyfriend when she was 16, holds gifts from Rickie Rush during a baby shower he threw for her in his classroom at Skyline High School. After she gave birth to her son in 1991, she said, Rush gave her money — for a bassinet, clothes, rent and a car.(Donna Fields )

The baby’s father shunned her. Her parents barely spoke to her. Donna felt like a ghost at home, an outcast at school, she said.

Except in Rush’s presence. He told students he admired her for sticking with school. He cast her as a pregnant woman in a play.

At the same time, his touching escalated, she said. He would rub her feet. He pulled at the back of her pants, and told her she needed different underwear. He lifted her shirt, saying she needed a better bra, she said.

On one level it felt wrong, Donna said. But she told herself Rush was just looking out for her.

Baby’s daddy

Donna trembles when she describes what came next.

Rush would show films in class. After he turned out the lights, he would sit next to her. Then he would rub her belly, she said.

He wanted her baby to recognize him, she remembers him saying.

After several of those encounters, he began to slip his hand into her underwear between her legs, she recalled.

“We’re in the back, in the dark. He’s rubbing, he’s rubbing,” she said.

She recalls flinching, trying to stay quiet.

Another incident plunged Donna into so much shame, she swore to herself she would never reveal it. It happened after her boyfriend, the baby’s father, bumped into her at school, knocked her books to the floor and kept walking.

She ran to find Rush and burst into tears. Rush pulled her into an empty room and embraced her.

“He lifted my shirt to put his ear on my belly, then rubbed it,” Donna said. “He told me to forget my baby daddy because he was going to be the father.”

Then Rush pulled both their pants down, she said.

She remembers his penis inside her.

“I was screaming inside, but nothing came out,” Donna says now, through tears. She went home, got in the shower and dropped to the floor, crying.

Rush called her to say everything would be OK.

“Don’t let the devil steal your joy,” Donna remembers him saying.

She turned those words over in her mind.

Was it joy? Rush had helped her again in a crisis. God must have sent him, he was always there for her, she told herself.

Rush held a baby shower for her in his classroom. A photograph shows her wearing maternity overalls, holding up gifts he had bought for her baby.

Donna gave birth to Stephen in 1991. Rush gave her money — for a bassinet, clothes, rent, a car, she said. She joined his church. She started calling him “Pops.”

Years later, Donna told her therapist that Rush, above all, made her feel safe, that she would always have food on the table and a roof over her head.

Rush’s help led her to view him as a protector, not an abuser, Donna said.

Her therapist told her that is a common outcome of sexual abuse by a trusted authority figure.

A “psychological and emotional hijacking,” her therapist wrote in her notes.

A ‘fake’ kiss

Renee was thrilled to finally hold her sophomore schedule in 1991: “Theater Arts – 2nd Period.”

She and her mom were already hooked by Rush’s sermons. Donna, who had moved to Atlanta to stay with her mom for a few months, had encouraged Renee to sign up for his class.

Soon Rush was showering Renee with attention, she told The News. He hugged her. He would chat with her during class, in his office and in the halls. He offered her cash for lunch.

Renee Phillips, shown with Pastor Rickie Rush in an undated photo, was in Rush's theater arts class as a sophomore at Skyline High School in 1991-92.
Renee Phillips, shown with Pastor Rickie Rush in an undated photo, was in Rush’s theater arts class as a sophomore at Skyline High School in 1991-92.(Renee Phillips )

That fall, Rush told Renee he wanted to cast her opposite him in a play.

The two would perform a slow dance and a kissing scene, he explained. He would teach her how to fake a kiss. They rehearsed in his school office, door shut.

“He showed me how to fold my lips inward so that my chin would touch his chin without our lips actually touching,” she said.

The more they practiced, the closer he pressed against her.

When they performed the show, it ran smoothly until the final scene. As they embraced, the lights dimmed to black.

“He stuck his tongue inside of my mouth,” Renee recalled. Then he said, “Boo!”

When the lights came back on, the audience applauded. Renee’s stomach turned, she said. But when she saw Rush laughing and bowing, she did the same.

“I think the only thing he really ever taught me was how to pretend,” Renee told The News.

Behind the door

Just as he had with Donna, Rush would take Renee to see his horses. He would hug her and linger in the embrace. He bumped up against her chest and bottom. Like Donna, Renee dismissed it.

After she graduated in 1994, Rush bought Renee a living-room set for her new apartment.

Two years later, while taking classes at Eastfield College, Renee became more involved at IBOC, spending up to three days a week there. Rush had asked her to help lead a church program for kids.

“Church members greeted visitors with so much love,” Renee wrote in her memoir, “from the looks of things, we were a healthy and progressive church.”

Then came the assault that turned her life upside down, she said.

The details are still etched in her mind. The sound of the bells on his classroom door. His purple suspenders. His white pants. Even the nearby Whataburger she stared at while sobbing in her car after.

She was psychologically whipsawed that day, she said. Rush had been a source of strength for her and her family, and had warned them about Satan. Was Satan now manipulating her mind?

Renee was desperate for answers and was convinced Rush would explain. He kept insisting she come back to his church office to see him, usually in the evenings, she said.

But he wouldn’t talk about what happened. He just told her everything would be OK.

And he pressed her for sex, she said.

Talking about it now, Renee can barely get the words out. On the floor between his desk and the office door, she said, he would perform sex acts on her. It went on for more than a year.

“I just laid there quiet and numb,” Renee said. “After each encounter, I would leave the church office in tears.”

Now she understands why she kept going back.

Renee Phillips, who has written a memoir that she published this month, is now a financial counselor and is married with two children. For decades, she rarely spoke of what happened to her.
Renee Phillips, who has written a memoir that she published this month, is now a financial counselor and is married with two children. For decades, she rarely spoke of what happened to her.(Carly Geraci / Staff Photographer)

Renee’s therapist, who spoke with The News, showed her diagrams illustrating how the brain’s fear center can trick a victim of assault into thinking it’s safer to submit than to fight or flee.

The pastor’s gradual escalation of contact was classic sexual grooming, her therapist said. And his influence over her was particularly powerful given the many roles he filled in Renee’s life.

Renee spiraled. She dropped out of college, withdrew from friends.

“I knew something was wrong with her,” Rolanda Harris, a friend who attended IBOC at the time, told The News. “She wasn’t talking, there was this weight drop, she was losing her hair. I had been begging her to talk for months.”

Renee finally did.

One day in late 1997, she broke down in front of Harris and other church friends, Renee said. She told them about Rush, how she believed he loved her but he didn’t want anyone to know.

Donna held her hand and prayed. But she had no words of comfort. She didn’t have the courage to speak up.

Donna couldn’t face her own truth, much less help her sister.

“I had put those memories so far in the back of my mind and promised to leave them there to die away,” Donna wrote in a journal.

Craig Alexander, one of Renee’s church mentors, said Renee told him around 1998 about the encounters that started in high school.

“She said he had her doing things that a man should do to his wife,” Alexander told The News. “Those were the words she used.”

He and his wife left the church soon after.

Harris told Rush she knew about him and Renee, she said.

Rush’s response, Harris said: You have to pray. You need to be careful. I’m hearing rumors of her being gay.

“I looked at him like, you’ve got to be kidding me,” Harris said. “This is not something you want to hear from a pastor. I just told him that this will be my last day at the church.”

The secret is out

Rush phoned Renee in a panic one day in March 1998, she said, angry that Renee had told Donna their secret.

He told her that she would have to pretend as if the sexual encounters never happened.

She said he told her it was her fault.

As she tried to process those words, she jotted them in a calendar on her desk next to his initials.

The next week, in front of other church members, Rush told her she could not sing with the choir, leaving her humiliated, she said.

That day, “he preached about how Satan is using people that are close to you,” Renee said. He said demons are bold, and that everyone should beware of what they may hear.

Weeks later, Renee, furious, gathered up her Bible, her IBOC T-shirts, her choir robes, and threw them in a dumpster.

Later, at a doughnut shop near the church, she saw Rush and his daughter. Renee walked toward them, wanting to confront him. But they jumped in his car. She followed them.

Minutes later, police pulled her over.

An officer told her Rush had called 911 claiming that she was trying to kidnap his child and that she might have a gun.

Those were lies, Renee said she told the officer. The cop let her drive off.

It is unclear whether police ever documented the incident. Police could not locate any records for The News.

Rush sought an order from a justice of the peace in which he and Renee agreed to stay away from each other.

Donna said Rush told her Renee had tried to kidnap his daughter. Having seen Renee’s deteriorating appearance and erratic behavior, she believed him.

Renee felt betrayed by Donna’s allegiance to Rush. And the sisters wouldn’t talk for more than 20 years.

In 1999, Rush resigned from teaching to pursue preaching full time, according to school district documents provided to The News. They showed no complaints against him during his nearly two decades at Skyline.

Couples counselor

As a couples counselor, Rush often insisted on deciding whether members could date or marry. But the meddling drove some couples apart, or away from the church, according to interviews with past congregants.

Former member Kelton Johnson wanted to date a woman at the church, but Rush warned him to stay away from her, Johnson said. Rush later found out the two had spoken.

“Rush stood me up in front of all the men and drilled me about why I was being disobedient,” said Johnson, who soon left IBOC.

Rush’s hold on Donna was still strong, she said. Donna stayed active at IBOC while raising a second son, Marcus Bell Jr., with her boyfriend, Marcus Bell Sr.

In 2000, she and Marcus Sr. married at the church.

When Donna needed couples advice during rough times, she turned to Rush, as she had when she was a teenager.

But the counseling turned perverted, according to Donna and Marcus Sr.

One day when the two were visiting Rush’s home, he offered Marcus Sr. advice on how to have sex with Donna. Rush told him to drop to the floor in a pushup position, then sat on him.

Marcus Sr. told him he was heavy.

“That’s how it feels when you are on Donna,” the couple remembers Rush saying.

Rush told him to lose weight, get his stomach down. “You have to be able to lay between her legs,” Marcus Sr. recalls him saying.

Instead of helping to repair their relationship, Rush resumed his sexual advances on Donna, she said. She went along, and she and Marcus Sr. broke up.

‘I’m your real daddy’

Marcus Jr. took his parents’ breakup hard. When his grades fell or he got in trouble, Donna sent him to Rush for discipline, knowing he might get a spanking or two, she said.

But in an interview, Marcus Jr. said it was far worse: Rush routinely beat him with boards, including a boat oar and a paddle the pastor had named Lucille.

The beatings started around the sixth grade when Marcus Jr. passed a note to a girl asking if she liked him, he said. Rush found out and struck him with a paddle about 10 times in front of nearly two dozen kids, he recalls.

A billboard for University of Dreams, the school at Pastor Rickie Rush's Inspiring Body of Christ Church in Dallas, towers over U.S. Highway 67 at Kiest Boulevard.
A billboard for University of Dreams, the school at Pastor Rickie Rush’s Inspiring Body of Christ Church in Dallas, towers over U.S. Highway 67 at Kiest Boulevard.(Irwin Thompson / Staff Photographer)

In seventh grade, Marcus Jr. was suspended a week for fighting. Rush learned about it and beat him, he said. The strikes were so painful, he fell and couldn’t stand up right away, he said.

“The whuppings were ‘pull your pants down,’ with no clothes on,” Marcus Jr. said. “He had a boat oar.”

Another time, Marcus Jr. said, Rush struck him while railing against his dad.

“He ain’t no man of God,” Marcus Jr. remembers Rush saying. “I’m your real daddy now, I’m your daddy.”

Marcus Jr. bounced from one school to another, and his parents watched him slide into trouble.

He was convicted in 2017 of aggravated robbery and is now in prison.

A report submitted to the court by a therapist who interviewed Marcus Jr. and family members about his past described “a history of physical and emotional abuse by the pastor and other members of his church.”

The report, which said Marcus Jr. suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, helped him get the lowest possible sentence — five years — according to his lawyer.

Last year, after The News spoke with Dallas police about Marcus Jr.’s allegations, a detective interviewed him, family members said.

More beatings

Marcus Jr. was not the only one beaten, according to sworn testimony from a 2011 civil court case and a written witness account obtained by The News.

Records describe how two teen girls’ parents had told Rush their daughters had gone against their wishes by texting two boys. Rush called the four kids to his church office, and ordered the two girls to lean over chairs.

He held a large wooden paddle. The girls knew what was coming. They had seen Rush strike other kids in front of hundreds of teens attending IBOC youth gatherings.

“He began to beat us with the paddle very hard, alternating at times between the two of us,” according to one girl’s deposition.

Rush told the teens if they resisted, it would get worse. One girl’s knees buckled, and her vision went black, she said.

Rush brought her a wet towel, revived her, and kept beating her, according to testimony.

He then told the girls to call out to the boys for help. They did, and when one boy tried to intervene, Rush forced him to back down.

Then Rush asked the boys how many strikes they themselves deserved. One said 12, the other said 19.

But Rush turned back to the girls and delivered the blows to them.

“His point was going to be proven in the end that, you know, those guys aren’t good for you,” one girl said.

The girls went home with welts and bruises on their bottoms and legs.

“I was hurt so badly that I cried all the way home and throughout the night,” according to one girl’s testimony.

Another person testified about hearing Rush once beat Marcus Jr. at the church.

“You could hear the kid yelling and you could hear the licks also,” the person said.

Rush settled the case; there is no public record of the terms of the deal or of him being questioned under oath.

Sisters reunite

Renee posted her story on Facebook in January 2018, naming Rush. Former church members flooded her with support. Donna was among them.

When she first saw the post, Donna, who had been through years of counseling, felt a stabbing pain in her stomach, she said, realizing her sister had gone through similar abuse.

The sisters spoke for the first time in 20 years.

Renee Phillips (left) and Donna Fields say they are now closer than ever. They promise to do everything they can to get the truth out.
Renee Phillips (left) and Donna Fields say they are now closer than ever. They promise to do everything they can to get the truth out.(Nitashia Johnson / Special Contributor)

Both soon understood that Rush had torn them apart, they say. And Donna realized Renee never tried to kidnap Rush’s daughter, she said.

Donna’s hair business had crumbled after she left IBOC, she had divorced a second husband and lived out of her car for months.

Renee found work as a debt counselor, married a former IBOC church member and began raising their children.

Both battle anxiety, depression, distrust of men and disturbing memories that surface unexpectedly, a hallmark of PTSD.

Donna can’t visit a church without being overcome by panic. When a gospel song came on during a recent fitness class, she walked out of the building in tears.

Renee’s heart kicks when she hears the jangling of chimes on a Hallmark shop door. Whenever her kids ask to go to Whataburger, she cringes. She doesn’t stay inside schools too long. She also avoids churches, missing weddings and funerals.

Faith in God, however, remains a strong part of the sisters’ lives, they said.

Donna borrowed a coping strategy from her sister, and began writing her own memoir.

Both shared their stories and book drafts with Dallas police. A detective told them he would look into their allegations as he tackled a heavy workload, including Catholic church sex abuse cases, an account he confirmed with The News. The sisters joined Survivors Speak Out, a Dallas forum that encourages sexual trauma survivors to heal through writing memoirs.

It’s unclear whether Rush read the sisters’ Facebook posts. A few days after Renee shared hers, the church put a recording of a Rush sermon on YouTube titled “I’m Still Here.” The video remains online.

His voice rising, Rush claims he’s on the devil’s hit list.

“The gun has already been loaded,” he said. “How dare the devil fire something at me.”

Accountability

The police did not provide case updates to the sisters for nearly a year. In December, The News asked them to request copies of the statements they gave detectives.

Within days, a new investigator contacted Donna, saying she was taking over the case because the previous detective was too busy.

The sisters also learned that their allegations may be too old to prosecute.

Yet their testimony could still be used as corroborating evidence if other accusations are pursued. Earlier this year, a detective interviewed Marcus Sr. about his son’s allegations.

Renee and Donna say the abuse they suffered is difficult enough to overcome.

The deeper anguish is hearing Marcus Jr.’s story, they say, and knowing they did not prevent it.

The sisters are now closer than ever. In one of several interviews with The News, they cried, held each other and promised to do everything they could to get the truth out. Renee published her memoir this month.

“No more hurt, pain, lies, pretending,” Renee said, imagining what she would say to Rush. “You need to be held accountable.”

Confidential crisis support for sex-assault survivors:

Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center Hotline: (972) 641-7273

(Phone line operates 24/7; website is dallasrapecrisis.org)

National Sex Assault Hotline: (800) 656-HOPE (4673)

(Or chat online with a staff member at hotline.rainn.org/online)

Texas Association Against Sexual Assault: (512) 474-7190 or taasa.org/crisis-center-locator

How we reported this story

Reporters reviewed hundreds of pages of documents including court testimony, and interviewed more than 50 people. Many were former church members or students of Pastor Rickie Rush, who taught theater arts at Skyline High School between 1982 and 1999. We also reviewed dozens of the evangelist’s online sermons and read his two books, May I Have Your Order, Please? How to Get What You Want from God, and The Pendulum: Come Out Swinging Through the Difficult Times.

To corroborate key dates and details of the account given by Renee Phillips, reporters reviewed school records, personal calendars and photographs that coincide with her timeline of events.

We interviewed Phillips’ friends, fellow congregants, her parents and other family members. Six of them said Phillips told them in the 1990s that Rush had initiated sexual contact with her starting when she was in high school. They also described Phillips’ emotional and physical decline during her last months at the church.

Reporters spoke with relatives and friends of Donna Fields and her son Marcus Bell Jr., as well as former congregants who knew them.

We also obtained written affidavits and memoirs the sisters provided to Dallas police. The News discussed Marcus Bell Jr.’s allegations with a detective, who later interviewed him, according to family members.

Additionally, The News spoke with therapists for Phillips, Fields and Bell, who provided summaries of the family members’ accounts of abuse by Rush. All three demonstrated symptoms of psychological trauma, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, consistent with such experiences, according to the therapists.

Reporters also reviewed court documents containing allegations that Rush had beaten two teen girls and Marcus Bell Jr.


Source link
.  .  .  .  .  .  . .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   .   .   .    .    .   .   .   .   .   .  .   .   .   .  .  .   .  .