A longtime children’s theater director in Kansas City was found dead on Christmas Eve – days after he resigned amid allegations of sexual abuse.
Jeff Church, 63, who had led The Coterie Theatre for over 30 years, was found dead at his home on Saturday afternoon, the Kansas City Star reported.
The cause of death has not been released.
On Thursday, KKFI 90.1 radio host Mark Manning accused Church on Facebook of assaulting him in 1991 when he was 27.
He came forward by sharing a since-deleted video by Deshawn Young, a Florida-based actor who previously lived in Kansas City, in which he described an assault.
“I am sharing this video testimonial from my friend Dashawn Young. Please be careful. This is very difficult to watch and hear,” Manning wrote.
“My emotional muscle memory was triggered in a way I did not fully expect. I lost it. I became so emotional that I wondered if I could even do my radio show,” he continued.
Manning went on to recount how Church allegedly assaulted him at the director’s home during a party after the production of “Dinosaurs.”
“I found myself pushed back on the bed, his mouth was on my body parts, my clothing seemed to disappear, and very quickly the director had penetrated me,” he wrote.
“It felt like my body was being used. How did this happen?” Manning said, adding that he had heard of many similar accounts of sexual abuse at the hands of the theater honcho.
Manning told The Star that the sickening acts had been “going on for over 30 years.”
“Most of these people were young theater artists trying to find their way through their theatrical career and a person in a very great authority position of directing them and deciding who gets paid and who gets the job [was] interfering in people’s lives,” he told the paper.
He said that after he shared the lengthy post, three other people reached out to him to share their similar experiences.
On Friday, the Kansas City Pitch first published more shocking allegations against Church from more than a dozen people.
KC Comeaux, an actor who worked for Church in his early 20s, also spoke out on Facebook.
“I was sexually assaulted by Jeff Church. Many of you in Kansas City had no idea of this man’s behavior. Many of you had heard rumors. But I’m here to tell you that he is a predator,” he wrote.
“He has groomed, abused, and assaulted, numerous young men over the course of 30+ years. Myself included,” Comeaux wrote. “…this man, who has used his position of power as an Artistic Director of a renowned children’s theatre, for manipulation and sex exploitation.”
On Saturday afternoon, the theater announced that it had accepted Church’s resignation and planned to investigate the multiple allegations.
“We want you to know that we are taking these allegations extremely seriously and will move forward with the investigation immediately, despite the impending holidays,” it said in a statement.
Manning called the lurid matter a “tragedy for our community.”
“I don’t want to see a whole theater company be destroyed because of one person and the horrible things that they did over a long period of time to a lot of different people, both men and women,” he told the paper.
Church’s death comes a month after the Coterie’s executive director, Joette Pelster, died in her sleep at age 71 — a week after she announced her intentions to retire after almost 30 years.
“Her achievements were many and her impact on the performing arts in Kansas City was immense,” theater rep David Golston told The Star last month.
It has not been confirmed whether others at the theater had known about the allegations against Church, the paper noted.