MANASSAS, Va. (FOX 5 DC) - For the first time, a Virginia mother is speaking about the sexual abuse her daughter endured at the hands of her church youth pastor.
Earlier this year, Jordan Baird, 27, was convicted on five felony counts of indecent liberties with a minor. He later pleaded no contest to electronic solicitation of a minor. He was sentenced to eight months behind bars and forced to register as a sex offender.
Gloria Harding says her family had attended The Life Church in Manassas for a decade and considered Baird a close family friend. Baird’s parents are the head pastors at the church and employ many members of their family, including Baird’s brothers and his wife.
Harding’s daughter, Morgan, was 16 years old when the abuse began.
“We really thought that [Baird] along with other members of his family were like a mentor for Morgan,” Harding said. “That’s actually what we considered him was a mentor for her.”
Morgan was taking private music lessons from Baird and was among those in the church who looked up to his musical abilities. He was a finalist on the CW singing competition “The Next” in 2012, and after being mentored on the show by Joe Jonas, Baird went on tour with the Jonas Brothers.
Harding first got an idea of what had been happening to her daughter in the summer of 2016.
“She called me to her room and said, ‘Mom, there’s something I have to tell you,’” Harding said. “That particular morning, all she could get out without completely melting down was, ‘He had asked me to put an app on the phone and he sent me really bad messages.’ And then she just cried and was shaking.”
Baird was arrested, accused of sending Morgan explicit messages, repeatedly groping her at church and urging her to have sex with him. He pleaded not guilty.
It was after Baird was convicted in that case that police announced that a second accuser had come forward. The young woman told investigators that Baird kissed her, exposed himself and asked her to perform oral sex when she was 16. She says it happened in 2014, around the same time Morgan was abused.
She is now suing The Life Church for $21 million.
Court filings from both criminal cases show there are at least four other women from the church who say Baird pursued sexual relationships with them. A hearing on Thursday will determine if they will be allowed to testify in the trial set for February.
FOX 5 spoke to Baird at his Fauquier County home, asking if he had done the things he is accused of, but he refused to comment.
Harding says his continued denial that he abused her daughter painted Morgan as a liar and caused many of her closest friends to vanish from her life. The losses were especially difficult because Morgan was homeschooled and her life centered around her church.
“She lost everyone over what she did,” Harding said. “That was probably one of the most difficult things for her – to lose all of her childhood friends pretty much.”
Morgan was able to address Baird directly in court, telling him in part:
“I never wanted to be here. I never wanted to see you in handcuffs and a jumpsuit. I never wanted to ‘destroy’ The Life Church or the Baird family. I never wanted to get in between you and your wife and daughter. I never wanted to lose my friends or everything I worked hard for at the church. I never wanted to leave. I never wanted to publicly humiliate you or your family. And I never wanted this to happen to me.
“All I wanted was to tell the truth, to get help for myself, for you to get the help that you needed and most importantly an apology from you for what you did to me.
“You took my innocence away as a 16-year-old child. You took away my care free attitude and my fearlessness that I could do anything I wanted to, because I never once before in my life had a reason to be scared, until you.”
Morgan and her mother told FOX 5 they wanted to share their story to let others know it’s possible to heal from sexual abuse, and that for Morgan, it was her continued faith that helped her do that.
Baird’s father, Pastor David Baird, said he was unable to do an interview with FOX 5 due to pending litigation.
Rachel Pisani, a spokeswoman for The Life Church, said there was never any indication sexual abuse was taking place at the church, calling what happened a “terrible, tragic incident that never should have occurred.”
“Pastor Baird is still heartbroken over what happened and prays for complete healing and restoration to Morgan and her family!” Pisani said in an email.
FOX 5 will be in court for Baird’s hearing Thursday and we will have a follow-up report on what happens.