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Colorado Youth Leader, Counselor Pleads Guilty to Unlawful Sexual Contact

Preston Pitcher was born and raised in Durango, a town of nearly 20,000 people not far from the Four Corners area of southwestern Colorado. 

He grew up attending the youth group at First Baptist Church. A decade ago, the church hired him as its youth leader. Over the last five years, he used his position to lure at least four students into overnight outings that including sexual advances, touching, and groping.

Senior Pastor Jimmy Thoma said he first learned about three alleged incidents on June 11.  He promptly notified police and terminated Pitcher, who was arrested June 22.  Four victims have so far come forward. Police provided no information about victims’ age or gender.

Pitcher, 38, faces four counts of unlawful sexual contact, a misdemeanor offense that could carry a sentence of 60 days in jail and four years of supervised probation. He pled guilty on Nov. 10, 2020, will be sentenced January 12, 2021.

Pitcher also worked as a counselor with Riversage Family Counseling in Durango. Its website says Pitcher is “Currently on Indefinite Leave,” but doesn’t say why. 

Pitcher received a Master’s in Professional Counseling from Grand Canyon University.  His Riversage bio says, “Preston sees the importance of one-on-one therapy where confidential and comfortable sharing sessions can occur, and rapport can be established. He has spent many hours studying, training and working under the leadership and supervision of Riversage Family Counseling. He has worked with adolescents and adults in group sessions as well as individual.”

Riversage said it followed up with all of Pitcher’s counseling clients, and has found nothing to report to police.

Pitcher’s sexual contact with the four students in his youth ministry followed a similar pattern. None of the unlawful contact happened at First Baptist, but that’s where Pitcher met and recruited his victims. 

Citing police reports, The Durango Herald reported: “Pitcher met the alleged victims in his role as a youth leader, befriended them and then made sexual advances…Pitcher allegedly invited the victims into his home, and they agreed to stay the night. Some of the victims said they trusted Pitcher, and one thought of him as a ‘third parent.’

“The victims claimed Pitcher groped them while they slept and touched them under their clothing. Several incidents allegedly occurred during overnight trips out of town. One victim told authorities Pitcher “manipulated the situation so they had to sleep in a bed together.”

“(The victims) never told anyone about what happened to them and thought they were the only ones Preston had done this to.”

The sexual contact happened in 2016, 2018, and 2020.

There’s no information about Pitcher’s case on First Baptist’s website, but the church welcomed its new youth leader Nov. 8.

First Baptist is affiliated with the Conservative Baptist Association Churches network, not the Southern Baptist Convention, so its offenders can’t be found on the Houston Chronicle’s database of 263 criminally convicted and plea-bargained Southern Baptist sex offenders.

But Pitcher can be found among the 519 people listed at BaptistAccountability.org, a site launched in May by Dominique and Megan Benninger to expose offending “Baptists of all flavors.”

Pastor Thoma, who had been an assistant pastor at the church for 15 years before becoming senior pastor this spring, said he was fairly confident all victims had been found.

“We’re trying to walk with as much truth and honesty and openness as we can. We don’t want to sweep this under the rug.”

Steve Rabey

Steve Rabey is a veteran author and journalist who has published more than 50 books and 2,000 articles about religion, spirituality, and culture. He was an instructor at Fuller and Denver seminaries and the U.S. Air Force Academy. He and his wife Lois live in Colorado.