Jacksonville Daily Progress
WELLS — Parishioners of the under fire Church of Wells — who the parents of an Arkansas woman allege are holding their daughter in thrall — have broken no laws in regard to that situation as far as local law enforcement is concerned.
In fact, there is no evidence whatsoever that Catherine Grove, 26, was kidnapped or is being held against her will — a fact Cherokee County Sheriff's Department deputies verified three times by speaking to her away from the rest of the Wells congregation with whom she is currently staying, Cherokee County Sheriff's Capt. John R. Raffield explained Tuesday.
“There is nothing illegal about it,” the captain said. “We have explained this to the family and other people. We can no more continue to question members of their church about this than we could pull parishioners out of a Methodist church, a Baptist church, or a Seventh Day Adventist Church and tell them, 'Your parents are really worried this church is filling your head with nonsense.'”
The Cherokee County Sheriff's Department has investigated the situation because Wells does not have its own police force.
On Tuesday, Patty Grove revisited some of the statements that have been attributed to her in other media, including the use of the term "cult" to describe the church and "kidnap" to describe the situation.
"We are not saying she was kidnapped," she said. "But we are saying that we do not know what is going on behind closed doors and that is not OK."
The term "cult" was used by some "kids we met in town," and was not a characterization by the Groves themselves, she alleged.
Meanwhile, while there will be no further investigation into the alleged Catherine Grove kidnapping, authorities are still reviewing the circumstances behind the May 2012 death of a three-day-old baby girl whose parents — members of the church's congregation — waited 15 hours after her death to call 911.
An autopsy found that the baby died of natural causes, but that investigation never closed.
Back to the Catherine Grove case, it essentially began in July, when Grove fell off her parents' radar for a week. She then telephoned them, letting them she was all right but adding she would be staying with the congregation of the Church of Wells for the immediate future.
Patty and Andy Grove quickly followed, traveling to the small Cherokee County town of Wells — population 790 as of the 2010 census.
The Groves contacted area reporters and initiated what was essentially a public relations campaign against the church to promote their belief their daughter is "under the control" of the elders of the church.
"They are in control of what Catherine is doing and where she is going," her mother reiterated Tuesday. "We are not saying she is being held against her will. They are influencing her not to talk to her family. If they really loved Catherine they would want her to talk to her family and friends."
Elders with the Church of Wells contend Catherine Grove is a former Satanist and that parishioners are trying to help retrain her in the ways of the church. Church elder Sean Morris went so far as to call press conference to elaborate Sunday, but canceled it before it could take place.
In an email distributed to the media on Tuesday, Church of Wells Elder Sean Morris said the Groves are very manipulative — despite accusing the church of themselves being “master mental manipulators” of the situation.
“Ever since the Groves have been here they have hidden the past of Catherine and (Catherine's sister) from the town,” Sean Morris said. “When I have tried to mention to some people about these horrific complexities which greatly changes this situation, these people went to the Grove only to hear them deny it with shameless confidence …”
Patty Grove unequivocally denied that anyone in their family is, or ever has been, involved in anything Satanic.
"We have nothing to hide," Patty Grove said repeatedly. "Catherine has nothing to hide."
Sean Morris repeated his allegation from a previous email— that Patty and Andy Grove continually oversimplify this situation to portray church members as something they are not: members of a cult.
“All the while they cover up that one of their daughters is a practicing witch, shaman, satanist, etc. who is married to a man who is a male witch,” Sean Morris said. “ … The Groves are deceiving the town, and the town needs to hear about this. They will not believe it unless they see it themselves.”
Capt. Raffield said he worries any further questioning of Church of Wells members or Catherine Grove without concrete justification might just encroach constitutional rights.
"We have tiptoed right up to the line of violating constitutional rights and might go over it if we continue," the captain said. " … Now, if we see her walking down the street with black eyes and a broken leg we will definitely do a welfare check. But there comes a point where this literally becomes harassment and can't continue to do that … This isn't a thin line — it's a pretty broad line of where law enforcement can and can't go."
Legally, the church has complained about the behavior of the parents at least once. Representatives of a store in Wells that is owned by the church called authorities for help at one point when the parents are alleged to have trespassed there, Raffield said.
Patty Grove acknowledged there were criminal trespass charges of some sort and vowed that she and her husband are "not going to go to jail or prison" as a result.
"There are three main things that we are extremely alarmed by," she said Tuesday. "One, the statement by the church elders on July 18 that we, her parents, wanted to 'kidnap our daughter and subvert her from their faith.' Two, that we cannot contact Catherine by cell phone and we have not talked to Catherine by herself at all and, three, alarming statements in the 'Doctrine of Judgment'."
In regard to the investigation into the death of the three-day-old, the sheriff's department and the Cherokee County District Attorney's Office are still reviewing the case.
"I can tell you there is some active stuff going on with that," Capt. Raffield said. "Whether that results in criminal charges, who knows? There have been similar cases across the country in recent rears where couples were called out for not providing medical treatment for their children, — where they elected to pray over a child. Some of those cases have been successful. Others have not."
Jacksonville Daily Progress Editor Amy Brocato Pearson contributed to this report.