By Stephen Gallien, ABC3340
COLUMBIANA, Ala. (WBMA) — A New Jersey youth pastor is in jail and accused of coercing young teen and pre-teen boys in Alabama and three other states into performing depraved sex acts all while he posed as a teenage girl on social media.
Shelby County sheriff’s investigators were part of the investigation that landed 30-year-old Sean Higgins in jail on a total of 28 sex crime charges.
Burlington County, New Jersey prosecutors identified six victims so far, all ranging in age from 12 to 15. Besides Shelby County, those boys reside in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota.
Higgins is accused of posing as a girl he called Julie Miller to establish a rapport with his young victims. He would send them nude photos of an unknown female and he would often get photos of his victims in return.
After receiving the boys’ nude pictures, prosecutors said Higgins would then take a screenshot of the victim’s friends list on the forward-facing Snapchat or Instagram accounts before threatening to send the nude photos he had just received to the list of the victim’s friends unless they did exactly what he demanded, which often involved the young boys videotaping themselves in sex acts.
“The desperation of these young boys who were put in this position by this predator is truly heart-breaking,” said Burlington County prosecutor Scott Coffina.
Prosecutors said according to the videos made by Higgins that were obtained during the investigation, victims would often beg Higgins to be allowed to stop engaging in sexual conduct, but Higgins would demand that they complete his instructions or face the consequences of having the recordings he was making of the abuse be sent to their list of friends.
Authorities in New Jersey arrested Higgins at his home in Palmyra in late October. Officers had to force their way inside after Higgins refused to open his door.
Search warrants were also served at Harbor Baptist Church in Hainesport, New Jersey where Higgins holds the position of youth pastor. He also served as a teacher at the Harbor Baptist Academy, which is a private school with about 75 students. Multiple electronic devices were seized.
Higgins faces charges in Shelby County of Electronic Solicitation of a Child, Dissemination of Child Pornography and Sexual Extortion. Bond on the trio of charges in Alabama has been set at $45,000.
Higgins remains in the Burlington County Jail in New Jersey pending a detention hearing in Superior Court.
“These charges underscore the importance of parents monitoring their children’s internet activity, and also having those frank and uncomfortable conversations about the dangers of sharing naked photos or other embarrassing images of themselves,” said Coffina.
The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office said Higgins may have been in contact with other people in Alabama and investigators encourage them to contact law enforcement.