As accusations mount, victim advocates question police commitment to investigation. Rush has denied all allegations.
Note: This story contains depictions of sexual and physical abuse that may be disturbing.
A former member of the Inspiring Body of Christ Church says he was 13 when Pastor Rickie Rush raped him, an allegation Dallas police say they are investigating.
Marcus Bell Jr., 26, described the assault in recent interviews with The Dallas Morning News, saying it came after a week of beatings by Rush in 2007 that left him bruised and barely able to walk. At least six former members of the church told The News that Rush often targeted him for whippings in the name of discipline.
The News also recently obtained an affidavit that another former IBOC member submitted to Dallas police two years ago, alleging Rush touched her inappropriately around 2006.
Bell and the woman are among 12 former church members The News has reported on since September who have alleged a range of abuse by the evangelist when they were teens or younger. They described beatings with wooden paddles, sometimes when they were handcuffed or tied down, hazing, and sexual grooming that led to assaults.
“Rush needs to be held accountable,” said Bell, who is serving the final 16 months of a five-year prison sentence for robbery. “He doesn’t need to be doing this to anybody else.”
As accusations mount, victim advocates question whether police have taken the investigation of Rush seriously enough, given his longstanding access to children. No criminal charges have been filed against him.
The alleged incidents date back three decades, to when Rush, 61, founded the church, which sits on a 50-acre campus in southern Dallas. At one point IBOC topped 10,000 members, and it has housed a grade school and daycare center.
Through his attorneys Michael Heiskell and Renee Higganbotham-Brooks, Rush continues to deny all allegations of abuse, including those made by Bell, his family and other church members in two earlier News reports.
“The rehash of these baseless allegations serves as a third attempt by these individuals through The Dallas Morning News to continue this smear campaign against him and IBOC,” according to their statement.
“The IBOC community stands solidly behind Pastor Rush,” the attorneys said.
Victim advocates have called for his resignation and held more than a dozen demonstrations outside his church. Rush continues to hold services.
Police have known about Bell’s rape accusation since October but did not interview him, even by phone, until April. Police said they had made a half-dozen efforts to visit Bell but prison officials did not allow it due to the pandemic, along with other issues.
Debra Bowles, director of the Women Called Moses Coalition and Outreach, a crisis agency that serves predominantly women and children of color who are victims of violence, said many in the Black community worry that police have not devoted enough attention to the investigation or publicly appealed to potential victims too afraid to step forward.
“There’s already a concern out there that Black women aren’t getting all the support they need from police,” Bowles said. “And they fear the same here, that justice isn’t going to be done.”
Bowles credited Bell for speaking out, saying he is “breaking the silence for victims in the community.”
Dallas police Chief Eddie García, who took over the department in February, told The News that he is reviewing the case and wants to assure those who have any information about abuse within the church that the department is serious about its investigation.
“We want to support them. We want them to come forward. We need them to come forward,” García said. “There’s no question about it.”
Bell’s account of being beaten by Rush and a therapist’s assessment of his lasting trauma were first described in a News investigation in September.
The article also detailed allegations by Bell’s mother, Donna Fields, and his aunt Renee Phillips that Rush sexually abused them when they were teens in the 1990s. The sisters’ therapists characterized Rush’s behavior leading up to the abuse, as described by the women, as classic sexual grooming.
Rush wielded extraordinary influence over the sisters as their spiritual leader and high school drama teacher, according to the women and their relatives. At the time, the sisters’ parents were grappling with drug addiction and financial problems and Rush sought to act as their savior, they said.
Phillips recognized Rush’s actions as abusive after her teen years and left the church. It took Fields longer. Rush gave her leadership roles in the church and showered her with money and attention. She saw Rush as a protector and a father figure for herself and her son.
Bell loved going to IBOC as a kid, he remembers. He idolized Rush, and even called him “Papa.” The two watched professional wrestling in Rush’s office. Bell often pretended to be a minister, and Rush sometimes let him lead prayers from the pulpit during services.
“He used to tell me, ‘Oh, you’re going to be the one that leads this church someday,’” Bell recalled.
When Fields and her husband, Marcus Bell Sr., were breaking up around 2007, the younger Bell began to act out at school. Rush began to fixate on Bell for beatings, sometimes whipping him in front of others with paddles, former church members told The News.
Rush so frequently beat teens with paddles during group activities that it became normalized, former members said. He encouraged parents, often single mothers, to let him discipline their children if they misbehaved.
In the fall of his seventh-grade year, Bell was suspended a week for fighting. Fields allowed him to stay with Rush during the day, believing he would put him to work and maybe give him a swat or two.
But between cleaning horse stables at Rush’s home and odd jobs around the church that week, Rush beat him several times, once with a boat oar, Bell said.
During one assault, Rush criticized Bell’s dad for leaving the church and being a bad parent, according to Bell. Rush would not stop the lashes until Bell referred to Rush as his father, Bell said.
The rape occurred that Friday, Bell said.
Rush had ordered him to do yard work at the church before a men’s fellowship gathering. The pastor scolded Bell for not picking up enough leaves and brought him back to his office.
Bell remembers Rush telling him to pull down his pants. Then the pastor pulled out a paddle he had nicknamed “Lucille” and began thrashing him, Bell said.
Weak from days of beatings, he fell to the floor.
Suddenly the paddling stopped and he felt Rush behind him, a hand around his neck, he recalls. He could barely breathe.
Rush penetrated him with his penis, Bell said.
“I zoned out,” Bell said. “I just zoned out.”
Rush told him to go to the bathroom to clean up.
Bell caught a view of himself in the mirror. “I just looked at the bruises from my back down to my bottom.”
Rush had more in store for him that evening, Bell said. During the fellowship meeting, the pastor told the crowd he had to punish Bell for his misbehavior at school. As another lesson, Rush auctioned off Bell’s Fila tennis shoes that his dad had bought for him earlier that week.
Before Bell left the church that evening, Rush told him not to tell anyone what had happened, he said.
Bell’s father told The News he recalled asking his son where his shoes were. Bell told him Rush had taken them.
Angry, Bell Sr. said he went into the church to see Rush, but a group of ushers would not let him. According to Bell, Rush did not touch him after that.
Bell Sr. said the rape account devastated him when his son shared it with him recently. He also understands why his son didn’t tell him years ago.
“He knew I’d be sitting in the penitentiary now instead of him,” Bell Sr. said.
Fields said her biggest regret in life is letting Rush discipline her son that week. With the help of therapy, she said she now understands the profound psychological hold Rush had over her and her family.
“He was grooming all of us,” she said. “He was grooming our family.”
‘Scared and shocked’
Rush also tried to position himself as a father figure to Fields and her sister before he sexually abused them, they said. In the police affidavit recently obtained by The News, a third church member described Rush using a similar approach.
The woman, who was pregnant at the time, asked not to be named because she fears retaliation.
She said Rush made unwanted sexual advances toward her in his church office around 2006.
“He began yelling at me, asking why my jeans were tight,” the woman said in the affidavit.
Rush asked if she was trying to kill her baby, she said, and told her to take off her belt and unzip her jeans.
“He then touched my private area,” she said in the affidavit. “I automatically grabbed his hand and asked what he was doing. I was scared and shocked.”
Rush told her to trust him because he was like a father to her, she said.
He asked her to visit a week later; when she did, he complimented her clothes and said she looked nice.
Rush asked her to follow him into his office bathroom, she said, and as they faced a mirror, Rush stood behind her while grabbing her stomach.
In another encounter, Rush pressed her to describe what kind of sex she liked, according to her affidavit.
She quit the church.
‘Look me in the eyes’
Bell said he fell into despair in the years following the rape and he attempted suicide. He was hospitalized for two weeks at the former Timberlawn psychiatric hospital, according to his mother. In 2017, Bell pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery for demanding a cellphone at gunpoint, records show.
He received the lowest possible sentence, five years, after a therapist interviewed him and his relatives. In a report submitted to the court, the counselor pointed to a “history of physical and emotional abuse by the pastor.”
Over the past year, Bell said, he has spent his time behind bars turning inward, to confront his trauma and mistakes. When his mother and aunt went public about their sexual abuse, it gave him the courage to speak out for the first time, he said. Experts say victims of sexual assault often stay silent for years, even decades, before coming forward.
Bell sent a letter to a friend late last year divulging the assault. His mother shared the note with police and The News in October.
Bell now sees the abuse as the root of his aggression.
He is not seeking early release because he wants to pay for his crime and keep healing, he said. “Hate is not closure because you always hold on to it,” he said. “Love is closure. I need to get right for my family. I’m still working on myself. I want others to learn from me.”
What would he say to Rush now?
“I probably would say nothing to him,’’ Bell said. “I would just see how long he could look me in the eyes. I want him to remember, and know that I remember.”
In November, Bell’s attorney, Pat Lee, gave Rush 30 days to enter mediation, or else Bell would sue the pastor. In response, Rush’s attorneys said they would countersue. No suits have been filed.
The pastor’s attorneys said they have “been in communication” with Dallas police and offered to make Rush available for an interview. Police declined to say whether they had questioned him.
“Pastor Rush remains steadfast and firm in his denial of these 14 to 15 year old allegations,” his attorney said in a statement, “and reiterates that they are completely, totally and utterly false.”
Rush’s lawyer also sent The News a signed statement labeled “affidavit” from Bell’s former stepfather, Bradley Cotton. The document said Cotton believed Bell would have told him about any assault at the time, but did not.
Cotton confirmed with The News that he made the comments. But he said he never signed the statement. Rush’s attorney said he did.
Bell told The News that he was not close to his stepfather. Even if he had been ready to talk about the assault at the time, Bell would not have confided in him, he said.
Message to the public
Bell’s parents and his attorney said they are troubled that it took police more than five months to interview Bell after learning in October that he said Rush raped him.
On April 6, two detectives spoke to Bell for two hours at the prison. Police took a sworn statement detailing his allegations, according to Assistant Chief Reuben Ramirez.
The delay added to years of the family’s frustrations over what they saw as a lack of communication from the police.
Phillips, Bell’s aunt, gave her account to an investigator in late 2017; his mother told her story to police in 2018. But the sisters went nearly a year without an update from police, they said.
After The News again sought information from police in 2019 about the investigation of Rush, a new detective informed Bell’s mother and aunt that their cases were too old under the law to prosecute, but that they were looking into Bell’s allegations that Rush beat him.
Detectives did not pursue any discussions on the phone with Bell, Lee said. Police must conduct interviews in person, one officer told him.
Police also told The News that the type of physical contact described by the woman who submitted her own affidavit in 2019, and when it occurred, put it outside the statute of limitations.
Other alleged beatings of children, disclosed in an October News story, also occurred too long ago to prosecute, according to police.
The Rev. Peter Johnson, a civil rights leader and founder of the Institute for Nonviolence in Dallas, sent a letter to former police Chief U. Reneé Hall in November concerned there might be other victims.
“The lack of public resources devoted to helping these victims sends a message that the pain have suffered should be kept quiet,” Johnson wrote.
Hall stepped down in December. Johnson said he has not heard back from the police department.
Several victim advocates at Dallas-area crisis centers say they are perplexed that police have not said more publicly about the Rush investigation, given the growing number of accusers.
They had hoped former Chief Hall would ask the public for more information.
Bowles said she is encouraged that Chief García has reassured victims in his comments to The News.
“That’s something we haven’t had in a very long time and I feel he’s going to try to do something about this — I believe this in my heart,” she said.
García said in an interview last month that he and Ramirez are aware that sexual assaults tied to churches are “grossly underreported.’’ And though police cannot share details, García said they are working to get answers.
“We want to make sure that if there are victims that have not reported that they feel safe in reporting,” García said. “That is the sort of environment that we need to strive for.”
García also said he understands Bowles’ concerns that police fall short when it comes to allegations of crimes in the Black community.
“If we’re not being trauma-informed and we’re not talking to victims and we’re not practicing procedural justice with our victims, then that’s something that we certainly need to know so that we can deal with that issue,” he said.
Still, dozens of former IBOC members have told The News they worry Rush will never face accountability in the court system, because of his prominence in the community.
“People have been saying the same thing for years and years, that Rush won’t ever face consequences,” said Bell Sr. “Who’s going to step up?”
Texas Department of Family and Protective Services hotline: 1-800-252-5400
Women Called Moses nonprofit and shelter for victims of family violence: wcmcares.org: (214) 432-3017
Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center hotline: (972) 641-7273