Note: This story contains depictions of physical abuse that may be disturbing.
Ebony Davis was about 12, she said, when pastor Rickie Rush handcuffed her to another girl and beat their bottoms with a paddle, chasing them as they ran.
Lashawn Harris was in middle school when Rush bent him over and cuffed his hands to his ankles before paddling him, he said.
Dewayne said he was about 6 when Rush strapped him face down on a table, pulled down his pants, then thrashed his bare skin.
These accounts, two of which were reported to Dallas police in recent weeks, add a troubling dimension to abuse former members of Inspiring Body of Christ Church have said they suffered at the pastor’s hands. They also bolster recollections of other congregants, who said Rush’s beatings have spanned decades.
The former members came forward after The Dallas Morning News published an investigation last month into allegations that Rush, now 60, had sexually or physically assaulted five other members since the early 1990s, when the church was founded. Three said they were beaten with paddles when they were teens. One said she was hit so hard she blacked out. Rush has denied those allegations.
The News also found that while Rush says he witnessed his mother’s murder, death records show she died of liver disease.
The News‘ story examined how the charismatic former Skyline High School drama teacher built one of the largest churches in Texas. Its attendance once exceeded 10,000 worshippers but has declined in recent years. Rush has served multiple church roles, including couples counselor, teen group leader and disciplinarian.
Since the article was published, Rush’s accusers and victim advocates have held weekly demonstrations outside the church’s 50-acre campus in southern Dallas, calling for him to step down and for authorities to hold him accountable.
Rush declined to speak with The News. Through his lawyer, Michael Heiskell, he denied the new allegations, called them ludicrous, and said he never mistreated children. Heiskell said Rush administered corporal punishment similar to what can occur in schools, and that parents consented.
Heiskell also said the pastor never paddled children when he was alone with them and never when they were handcuffed. Rush used toy handcuffs, not real ones, and only to show what it’s like to be arrested, he said. Rush no longer has the cuffs, Heiskell said.
He said Rush was not aware of any reports being submitted to authorities at the time of the alleged incidents.
“There’s never been any, to our knowledge, any report of abuse,” Heiskell said. Or “any medical records to substantiate or corroborate any injuries sustained by the children.”
Dallas police had been investigating allegations that the pastor beat former IBOC member Marcus Bell Jr. when he was a teen, an account detailed in the September story. Detectives are now examining the new claims.
“The Rush investigation remains active and ongoing,” Police Chief U. Reneé Hall said in a statement last week.
Many forms of abuse leave lasting psychological scars. But handcuffing can magnify trauma, because the victim feels especially frightened and helpless, said Dr. Frank Ochberg, a psychiatrist at Michigan State University who helped develop the post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis and has counseled torture victims.
“Limiting a child’s movement in this way is dehumanizing, terrifying,” Ochberg said. “And if your own spiritual leader is doing it, the psychological injury can be worse than if an enemy were doing it.”
The whippings often occurred behind Rush’s closed office doors, but they also were common at gatherings of the church’s teen groups, former members said. The strikes could be so numerous and severe that they caused welts, bruises and bleeding, they said. Sometimes Rush’s wooden paddles would break.
Many of the kids who experienced this treatment assumed their parents knew what Rush did to them. But more than a half dozen parents told The News that while they trusted Rush to discipline their kids, they never imagined it would go beyond a scolding or a couple of swats.
The News interviewed more than 25 people for this story. Many did not want to be identified, saying they feared backlash from family members who still attend IBOC, or from Rush himself.
Ebony Davis, now 29, said that for years she was embarrassed to talk about what happened, even though keeping it to herself was painful.
“It’s hurting my brain, it’s hurting my chest, my heart is hurting,” she said. “If I can get my strength to come forward, maybe somebody can see me coming forward and come forward too.”
Handcuffed in the gym
Davis said she was 7 years old when she and her family began attending IBOC around 1998. She was almost 9 when IBOC moved to a new facility, on Westmoreland Avenue, to accommodate its booming membership.
During school breaks or holidays, Rush held day camps for children at the church.
By age 12, Davis said, she was getting in trouble frequently for talking back or not obeying her parents and teachers.
At one church camp, she said, she and another girl got into an argument. When Rush learned about it, she said, he told the girls and all the other campers to go to the gym.
As the kids watched from the stands, Rush handcuffed Davis to the other girl, she said.
Brandishing a paddle, he told them to start running laps. The girls ran the straightaways, but Rush let them walk the corners, she said.
“He was running with us, beating us in front of the kids,” Davis said.
When Rush told the girls to stop running, Davis thought it was over.
But then, “he made us get down on our hands and knees and crawl handcuffed together, and took turns paddling us as we crawled up and down the basketball court,” Davis told The News, her voice breaking.
Two fellow campers described some of the same details. One recalled how Davis sat on the gym floor afterward and cried.
The beatings continued, Davis said. When she misbehaved at school or home, Rush would take her to his church office and shut the door.
Sometimes he cuffed her hands behind her, sometimes in front. When she was 13 or 14, she said, Rush made her bend over and cuffed her hands to her ankles before striking her. Once, she was so sore and swollen she had to lie on her side as she took a bath.
Davis gave birth just before she turned 15, and soon had gallbladder surgery. A month after her operation, Rush handcuffed her and beat her again, she said.
Then he stood back and used the paddle to lift her shirt above her bra, she said. He rubbed her hair and her stomach with his free hand, she said, and asked about the surgery scars and the stretch marks. Given the pain of childbirth, she recalled him saying, there was no reason to beat her any more.
Until recently, Davis had confided in only a few people about the beatings.
“Back then she would only tell me bits and pieces,” said Jasmine Mills, a childhood friend. “Because I guess she was so scared.”
Just recently, Davis told Hattilena Gooch, her half sister, about the abuse she endured. Gooch said she now understands why Davis acted out so much when she was younger.
“Being at that church,” Gooch said, “impacted her in the worst way.”
Davis has started counseling and has attended protests at IBOC. She has reported her story to Dallas police. She showed them a scar on her wrist where she said Rush once fastened the cuffs too tight.
‘Screaming in the dark’
Over the decades, Rush tried to position himself as a father figure to his flock. Many single parents saw him as a natural to fill that role.
In the mid-2000s, Rush sought parents’ permission to punish their children if they stepped out of line at school or during church events. He also offered to pick them up from their schools when they got in trouble there. Some parents consented.
Others found it inappropriate. Tracy Houston, who said she attended IBOC for five years, remembers a meeting in which Rush asked parents to sign a letter allowing him to punish their kids. She crumpled the letter in her hand, left the meeting and never took her kids back to IBOC.
Some kids who stayed suffered.
Lashawn Harris, 29, said his mom, who was going through a divorce and working full time, accepted Rush’s offer to help with discipline.
Harris’ paddlings started when he was in fifth grade, he said.
His memories are vivid: Rush’s dimly lit wood-paneled office. The dark connecting rooms. The swings of the paddle that could land anywhere on his body.
The beatings grew worse after Harris entered middle school and kept getting in trouble, he said. Rush often picked him up from school. When he took the passenger seat, Rush would handcuff him to the door, he said.
At the church, Rush used cuffs to bind Harris’ hands — sometimes behind his back, sometimes to his ankles, he said. Most of the time, Rush pulled Harris’ pants down before paddling him. The blows could be so hard he bled, he said, and Rush would strike him at least six or seven times.
“You’re either bent over with your hands on his desk, with your hands on your toes, or you’re laying flat down on the floor on your stomach, rolling around trying to fight the pain,” Harris told The News. “Most of the time, he swings wildly. He doesn’t swing with the intent of hitting just one spot.”
Harris recalled that during one incident in Rush’s office, shortly after the youth was suspended from school, Rush made him lie face down on the floor. Rush cuffed Harris’ hands behind his back, he said. One swing was so hard, it severed the handcuffs. He couldn’t move his wrist without pain for weeks, he said.
Harris’ mom told The News she remembers her son complaining to her about his wrist after a paddling. She noticed the bruising, she said. But at the time, she was so angry at her son for getting suspended from school that she dismissed what he was saying.
Now she’s angry at herself: “I wasn’t giving my son the attention he needed at that moment.”
Harris, who is now raising his own kids, said Rush’s violence toward him “teaches me how not to act.”
“There’s so many children out there who need our help right now,” Harris said about the importance of speaking out. “They’re screaming in the dark, you know?”
Sixteen-year-old Dewayne said he still remembers the lashings that stung his bare thighs.
About 10 years ago, after he got in trouble at school, his mother took him to IBOC, where they were members. A single mom, she hoped a male churchgoer she had befriended would counsel her son.
But the friend arranged for Rush to speak with Dewayne in the pastor’s office.
“Instead of talking, he put me on this table,” Dewayne told The News. “Face down.”
Dewayne, whose full name is not being used because his family fears retaliation, said he remembers the room was dimly lit.
He recalls Rush tying his hands to the table with straps and pulling his pants down to expose his thighs.
“How it went was, he would say two numbers, like 8 or 5,” Dewayne said. “You would pick a number. And he’d whip you that many times. It really hurt.”
Dewayne couldn’t recall whether Rush used a belt or a paddle to strike him. Rush beat him on at least two occasions, he said.
Dewayne didn’t talk about the beatings until recently, he said. He assumed his mother knew what Rush had done to him.
“I was troublesome back then,” he said. “I think that was my reasoning. I brushed it off.”
Last month, he and his mom were in her car, waiting to order food in the drive-through at a restaurant. She had just read The News‘ recent investigation of Rush.
She asked about the times he had met with Rush: Did he ever do anything to you?
Dewayne took a deep breath, then described what had happened. His mom was stunned.
And furious. The memory of her son leaving Rush’s office in tears now weighs on her, she said.
Earlier this month, she spoke with a Dallas detective.
“Never in my wildest imagination would I ever consent to [Rush] laying hands on my son,” she said.
‘Normal’ at IBOC
Three women who used to attend the church told The News in separate interviews they had been beaten or hazed as children during events Rush held at IBOC.
Kids got used to it at an early age, they said.
One said she attended an IBOC “discipline camp” in the early 1990s where children were supposed to be taught good manners. Rush held fun activities, she said, but used a paddle to keep kids in check.
They had to stand still in a line and could be struck if they moved, she said. She was about 8 at the time and still recalls the pain of the licks.
In 1999, Rush opened the new church on Westmoreland that now houses IBOC’s private school. The new facility featured an ice cream parlor, a bowling alley and a movie theater, according to an article in The News. The idea, Rush said at the time, was to create a sanctuary for young people to protect them from drugs, violence and sex.
“Our members will find so much here they won’t want to leave the building,” The News quoted the pastor as saying.
The new facility was also home to Rush’s collection of paddles, the three women recently told The News.
One was an oar. Another was wrapped in duct tape. Rush named one Lucille, and one had the word “pain” written on it. All three women said they remember Rush striking kids so hard, he broke his paddle. The women said adults witnessed the punishment; a man who worked for Rush sometimes fetched the paddles.
Around 2001, according to two of the women and a memo describing church operations obtained by The News, Rush began a teen group called the Bomb Squad. Billed as a youth ministry, it required teens to pass a series of tests to earn a spot. Dozens tried out.
The tests turned out to be hazing exercises, they said, and a single failure could get a teen eliminated from the group.
Two women recalled the kids having to drink a raw egg and eat a bowlful of cereal in water. Both remember being forced to watch a movie late into the night. If anyone fell asleep, Rush would kick them out. They also said Rush made the group crawl on their hands and knees across a parking lot.
A few years later, Rush formed another teen group, called the Prayer Posse, which also was supposed to build character.
But it turned into an arena for humiliation, the women said. Kids Rush labeled as troublemakers were stood in front of the group, or the entire congregation during church services, and berated for bad behavior.
Rush’s attorney said the camps and other programs were intended to teach self-discipline, and build character and teamwork. He said Rush asked teens to eat cereal with water to illustrate the plight of impoverished children. Rush denied hazing kids, and said he corrected them without belittling them. Parents consented to such activities, the pastor’s lawyer said.
But all three women said Rush struck them frequently with the paddle over a span of years and went through counseling to deal with the trauma.
The beatings were part of growing up at IBOC, they said.
“That’s what happened to you when you got in trouble: You got hit,” one woman said. “That was normal to me.”
Child abuse resources:
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
Source: Dallas Morning News