Friday, March 23 2012 9:23 AM EDT2012-03-23 13:23:20 GMT
A 14-year old Dauphin County girl said she thought she was going to die Wednesday night when two men with apparent guns raided a church meeting. She later found out that it was a learning exercise carried out by the church youth group.
County prosecutors have begun an investigation into a church function where members of a youth group were tied up and blindfolded as part of a lesson in religious persecution.
Fran Chardo, First Deputy District Attorney of Dauphin County, said there could be consequences if teens didn't know what was going to happen, and didn't agree to be a part of the event at the Glad Tidings Assembly of God Church in Lower Swatara Township.
"It's actually quite serious," Chardo said. "False imprisonment of a child, someone under the age of 18, is a second-degree felony punishable up to 10 years on prison."
ABC27 News has learned that an off-duty police officer acted as one of two kidnappers who raided the Wednesday night meeting. The gun used by the officer in the fake raid was unloaded, but real.
"It's extremely disturbing," Chardo said. "The matter is under investigation. I don't want to comment on the matter itself, but this sort of conduct is extremely disturbing."
Lower Swatara Township police began their own investigation when the mother of a 14-year-old girl complained that her daughter, a guest of a youth group member, had her legs bruised during the event.
The teen told abc27 News she thought she was going to die when the men burst into the room, put pillow cases over some of the people's heads and led them into a van.
"They pulled my chair out from underneath me and then they told me to get on the ground," she said. "I was the first person to go into the van. I had my hands behind my back they said 'just do as I say and you won't be hurt'."
The teens were taken to the pastor's house, where it appeared he was being assaulted. Eventually, she said the adults in charge revealed it was a staged event.
"They heard me crying," she said. "Why not right then and there tell us it was a joke, when you see me crying?"
Pastor John Lanza said the lesson was a surprise "to secure the shock value of it and make it much more real."
"There are people in other countries that live under this environment on a regular daily basis," Lanza said. "They're not warned that their persecutors are coming in."
Church officials said the exercise has been done before and they would not shy away from doing it again, but would tell parents first. They added that they never had any indication that the teen was in such distress.
"I'm pretty sure she was laughing at some point and having fun with the other students," youth pastor Andrew Jordan said. "I can't confirm that, but that's what I've heard from friends of hers that were there."
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