The executive director and founder of Patriot Kids Ministry in Salado, Jon P. Tidball, was arrested Monday by members of the Special Crimes Unit of Bell County Sheriff’s Department on an outstanding warrant out of Bexar County.
Tidball is charged with indecency with a child by sexual contact and is in Bell County Jail with bond set at $75,000. He is waiting for extradition to Bexar County, said Lt. Michele Cianci, Special Crimes Unit director for the Bell County Sheriff’s Department.
Patriot Kids Ministry is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing military families with free after-school programs, clubs and camps and to help children develop life skills. The facility is on Cedar Knob Church Road in Salado and is funded by donations and a grant from the Dallas Foundation’s Triad Fund. About 10 camps are offered in the summer and one or two during the winter for children ages 7 to 11.
Bell County investigators are asking for the public’s help to determine if the safety and welfare of any Bell County children were compromised by any inappropriate activities or conduct at Patriot Kids Ministry in Salado or at any other camps or events attended by Tidball.
“Parents, please talk to your children if they went to camps associated with the ministry or with Tidball. Ask them if there were any activities that just weren’t right and please call us at 254-913-6770 with any information,” Cianci said. “Our main concern is the safety and welfare of children in Bell County, and that is why we’re conducting this investigation.”
Sheriff Eddy Lange stressed that investigators don’t have knowledge of anything wrong in Bell County, but that Bexar County and the Army had enough probable cause to issue the arrest warrant.
“We want to get the word out to people in Connecticut, Germany and any other locations where Tidball was stationed,” Cianci said.
“We hope to get answers as soon as possible,” Lange said. “But please remember that everyone is presumed innocent until they are proven guilty.”
The charge against Tidball is the result of a joint investigation by the Bexar County Sheriff’s office and the U.S. Army and is based on a claim by Tidball’s former stepdaughter, Cianci said.
The victim said she was 8 years old when the contact began and it continued until she was 14.
The victim is now 24. She said she reported the contact for many years but it was never legally pursued, Cianci said.
When she found out Tidball was involved with the ministry in Salado, she continued to press for charges to be filed.
“There is no statute of limitations on indecency with a child in Texas,” Cianci said. “The victim made outcries in both Connecticut and Germany, but no charges were ever filed.”
“Bexar County and the Army did a very thorough investigation,” said Aaron Ingram, Special Crimes Unit detective.
Tidball retired from the Army in 2008 with the rank of lieutenant colonel after 31 years as a chaplain stationed at various locations. He worked with other camps and children in Bell County after retirement and opened Patriot Kids Ministry in January 2012, Cianci said.
The Army’s investigation began in January 2013 out of Fort Campbell, Ky., involving the same victim, Cianci said.The Bexar County warrant was issued in October, but Tidball’s whereabouts were unknown. He was located in Salado in December.
Cianci and Ingram went to Patriot Kids Ministry on Monday and posed as a husband and wife “checking out camps for their five children,” Ingram said. They found Tidball at the camp and talked to him for about 20 to 25 minutes.
Cianci asked questions about the history of the facility, the ages of campers and other information.
“He was very talkative. He even said the camp was expecting 99 children on Thursday,” Cianci said.
When the duo explained they were there to serve an arrest warrant, Cianci said Tidball didn’t seem surprised. Tidball said, “I thought that was already taken care of,” according to Cianci.
Bell County investigators will begin interviewing people associated with the children’s ministry today, Ingram said.
None of the ministry’s board members or staff responded to phone calls or emails on Tuesday, and an email sent to the ministry’s webmaster, Lindsay Cleveland, was rejected by the server.