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New investigation into abuse at Word of Faith Fellowship

The Associated Press spoke with 43 former Word of Faith Fellowship church members, all of them citing violence in the Rutherford County organization. (Photo credit: WLOS archives)

A Western North Carolina church is, once again, under the spotlight following accusations of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse.

Early Monday morning, the Associated Press released a major investigation into alleged abuse at the hands of Word of Faith Fellowship members.

RELATED LINK| New investigation into abuse at Word of Faith Fellowship

The Associated Press spoke with 43 former church members, all of them citing violence in the Rutherford County organization.

Those interviewed say they're finally speaking out because they fear for the safety of the approximately 100 children still living there.

The AP's investigation also looked into child welfare documents, law enforcement reports, and secretly recorded conversations with Jane Whaley, the church founder.

Whaley founded the Evangelical church in 1979. Since then, it's grown to more than 700 members, all living on a 35 acre compound in Rutherford County.

In the report released today, former members say they were regularly punched, smacked, choked, and slammed to the floor in order to banish demons. They also say children, including babies and toddlers, were shaken, screamed at, and smacked.

These are far from the first accusations against Word of Faith leaders. In 1995, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation interviewed former members and church leaders. The District Attorney at the time said he found cases of abuse, but did not prosecute because he said the evidence was weak and some victims' refused to testify.

In a statement released on their website Monday morning, Word of Faith Fellowship says they are "shocked and saddened to learn of the false allegations made..." and goes on to say the church does not, "condone or allow abuse - in any form."

Read the full statement here.

Sheriff Chris Francis says he is aware of the article but hadn't read it. He said he's aware of at least two open investigations, one at the trial stage, the other, an outstanding warrant. "If anyone believes they have information that has not been investigated, the sheriff's office would be more than happy to investigate incidents objectively."

News 13 is following this story and will have updates today as the story develops.

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