Former youth pastor now behind bars, accused of a years-long sexual relationship with a young girl

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jeffrey Bedwell, 38, is being charged with lewd battery, molestation on a child and unlawful sexual activity.

Police said as of right now that there’s a possibility there may be people with information about additional crimes.

The arrest report indicated there were multiple sexual encounters between Bedwell and the victim, saying she was groomed with text messages, photos and sexual conversations. At one point, it indicated he locked the two of them in a closet and touched her inappropriately.

According to the arrest report, Bedwell’s encounters with the young girl lasted for five years, and they began when she was 12 years old.

“I was shocked, and it was disturbing,” a neighbor said.

That was one neighbor’s reaction when she found out about the arrest. She didn’t want to be identified but lives on the same street, saying she wasn’t too close with him.

“I didn’t really have that much of a impression on him. Our interactions have been good with him, but I haven’t been around him that much,” the neighbor said. “I was surprised, certainly was surprised.”

Police said during the time of the incidents, he was employed at multiple churches but won’t say which ones. Action News Jax learned he was a pastor at Chets Creek Church.

Spike Hogan, the senior pastor, gave Action News Jax a statement.

“Chets Creek was shocked and devastated to learn of the charges made against a former member of its staff. Jeff Bedwell’s employment with the church was terminated more than two years ago for issues unrelated to the current charges now made against him. During his time with Chets, he was subjected to the same thorough vetting and background check process that we require of all leaders, and there was no hint of criminal activity. Had we learned of, or had any reason to believe there was wrongdoing, we would have reported it to law enforcement immediately. With his recent arrest, we will cooperate with law enforcement in any way we can as they conduct their investigation.

“The safety of our members and families remains a top priority for us. The trust that they place in Chets Creek is precious and something that we work to earn and maintain every day. To that end, we are also constantly looking for ways to make our church even safer. With God’s help and guidance, we will do just that.

“Right now, our primary focus is to pray for any person who has been harmed and support them in any way they need. Please pray with us as we are once again reminded that we live in a dark world that needs help and hope that only God can bring.”

An attorney for the victim also gave a statement to Action News Jax:

“Unfortunately these types of cases result in trauma to victims and the community.”

Another neighbor who saw the report said he was uncomfortable.

“We don’t want to see that kind of stuff going on in our residential. We don’t want to see it in our downtown; we don’t want to see it anywhere,” Virgil Lancaster said.

A look through Bedwell’s criminal history showed nothing else serious besides traffic violations. Action News Jax reached out to the public defender’s office to see if it’s been appointed to the case but was sent to voicemail.