BENTON COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — Graphic sexual images and videos of young teens were among key evidence as a former Benton County pastor pleaded guilty to an eight-count indictment on child exploitation. Josh Henley, 33, was convicted Monday in federal court on the charges.
The disturbing details are hard to believe in the small town of Holladay where Henley served as a pastor and a coach at the neighboring elementary school.
“We all want to believe the good in people,” Benton County Sheriff Kenny Christopher told News 2.
That’s what the community in Holladay did, he explained.
“They see him at church it’s a very small town everybody is close-knit,” Sheriff Christopher said.
Henley groomed girls as young as 12, according to Benton County investigators, as he served as the pastor at Holladay Church of Christ in 2018 and a volunteer coach for the Holladay Elementary School girls’ basketball team.
“The way it all started, to begin with and the way it all played out, you could just see a pattern of a true predator,” said Sheriff Christopher.
Henley built relationships that he carried on in 2021 to Evansville, Indiana where he was a youth minister working in youth camps across the country. That’s where investigators say he drove a 15-year-old Benton County victim so she could help at his Vacation Bible School and where the two also had sexual intercourse. The teen told investigators they had engaged in sexual activity since she was 13.
Obscene pictures and videos including Henley having sexual intercourse with a 14-year-old victim played a key role in the case that has left the community broken.
“It makes it a lot harder to know that people trusted him,” Sheriff Christopher said. “They trusted him to take their kids and go out of state and it is heartbreaking to think that the whole time the parents are trusting him, the community is trusting him and he’s playing that one role of being a really good guy of I’m here to help your children and I’m here to mold them into better people and there was an ulterior motive the whole time.”
Sheriff Christopher praised the work of his investigators along with the FBI, TBI and Evansville police.
“This guy don’t need to be on the streets,” he said.
Henley faces fifteen years to life in prison on the federal charges. Sheriff Christopher says they will file state charges after sentencing in August.