GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A 62-year-old travelling evangelist, artist and youth worker is in jail, charged with two counts of criminal sexual conduct against children.
James Wallace Treadwell is charged with two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct that carry a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. He is jailed on a $1 million bond.
Treadwell was a member of a so-called Christian brotherhood known as The Servants of The Word, which has about 60 members committed to both traveling and a celibate, single life. He called himself an ‘urban monk’ and made it a point of his ministry to interact with families and children.
In 2015, Treadwell was an artist who was entering ArtPrize. He maintained a studio next door to The Potter’s House School in Grand Rapids’ Roosevelt Park neighborhood. That’s where he met Antonio Tendero, who was an administrator at the school at the time, and Tendero’s wife Jennifer. Treadwell invited himself to the house asking to hang out with the family because he said being an “urban monk” was sometimes lonely.
“So we had him over and my kids really liked him and we enjoyed his company and so that kind of started a friendship,” Jennifer Tendero said.
He was over many times spending time with her six children. Jennifer Tendero said he was more interested in her three daughters.
“He spent a lot of time talking to our girls and really seemed to gel with them more than with the boys, and with our youngest in particular,” Jennifer Tendero said, adding that he was very interested in the 5-year-old. “He would always search her out when he came and she thought he was wonderful.”
While her older daughters said Treadwell never behaved inappropriately with them, Tendero said she can’t be sure about the youngest.
The parents didn’t question Treadwell’s lifestyle, believing he was engaged in a unique mission ministry.
“We were friends until we got the phone call in October of 2016 that there were allegations,” Jennifer Tendero said.
An East Grand Rapids family said their daughter was molested by Treadwell.
East Grand Rapids police investigated and brought the case to Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker, who declined to prosecute based on lack of evidence.
“Very often, whether it be with kids or adults, there’s always the ‘it’s a he-said, she-said.’ And these cases aren’t bank robberies that happen in the public, where you have multiple witnesses,” Becker said. “Delayed disclosure is something we very often deal with (in) child sexual abuse cases. It’s well-known phenomena.”
Now, a Potter’s House student has come forward, claiming Treadwell sexually assaulted her in 2016.
“The Wyoming case is actually more recent in terms of the investigation and that was a delayed disclosure,” Becker said. “You generally look for corroborating other cases, which tend to lend credence, and that’s why we made the decision at this point in time.”
Antonio Tendero urged Potter’s House staff to tell staff and parents about the East Grand Rapids accusations, according to a November 2016 email, but Potter’s House did not do so until June 2017.
“I’m so angry that I don’t feel this was handled well by the school,” Jennifer Tendero said. “It’s a missed opportunity to begin a path of healing and/or to say, ‘Let’s figure out if this even happened in our school.’”
Potter’s House has not responded to specific questions about its notification but pointed out that as soon as allegations came forward, Treadwell was banned from the school and it has been cooperating with the investigation.
A letter that went out to parents seven months after administrators learned of the allegations said he was dismissed immediately.
While part of The Servants of The Word, Treadwell traveled around the Midwest and to the United Kingdom, founding a youth camp in Ireland.
He is no longer with The Servants of The Word, which has since changed its policies about interaction between members and children.
“Now it makes me crazy to think about it, but at the time we thought we are being a family to this guy who doesn’t have family,” Jennifer Tendero said. “I feel naïve and I feel I didn’t protect my girls in the way I ought to have.”
Becker said there are also allegations coming out of Lansing. He wants to be sure there are not more out there.
“We want to make sure we’re getting the word out if anybody has any information, we’re actively investigating,” Becker said.
Any child sexual abuse victims are encouraged to call their local law enforcement, Child Protective Services or the Children’s Advocacy Center of Kent County at 616.336.5160.
Police are asking anyone with information on the cases to call the East Grand Rapids Department of Public Safety at 616.949.7010, the Wyoming Department of Public Safety at 616.530.7300 or submit an anonymous tip to Silent Observer.