Christian nonprofit accused of abusing special needs children in its care

Logan Fahey, the biological son of the founders of The King's Cleft ministry, hugs Jayden Fahey, 21, on Thursday while he is strapped to a chair for his own protection. Jayden has Angelman syndrome, a genetic disorder. (Johnny Edwards / Johnny.Edwards@ajc.com)

Credit: Johnny Edwards

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Logan Fahey, the biological son of the founders of The King's Cleft ministry, hugs Jayden Fahey, 21, on Thursday while he is strapped to a chair for his own protection. Jayden has Angelman syndrome, a genetic disorder. (Johnny Edwards / Johnny.Edwards@ajc.com)

Credit: Johnny Edwards

Father of adopted kids is accused of handcuffing, beating a teenager, sheriff’s official says

WRIGHTSVILLE — For decades, David and Kathy Fahey have been known to their neighbors as models of Christian charity, doing God’s work by taking in severely disabled children from around the world who had nowhere to go and giving them a home on their farm.

Now police are alleging that behind that wholesome image was a house of horrors.

On Wednesday, authorities arrested David Fahey, 62, at his property in Johnson County and charged him with four counts of felony cruelty to children and three counts of felony false imprisonment. According to a sheriff’s office official, Fahey is accused of restraining a teenager with handcuffs and beating him with a belt, a curtain rod and a wooden rod. He was booked into jail wearing a QAnon T-shirt.

Kathy Fahey also had been under investigation, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, but she died on Feb. 1 at age 60. Her death was ruled accidental, brought on by toxic levels of acetaminophen, the pain reliever in Tylenol. Her son told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday that the stress of the criminal investigation likely contributed.

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David Fahey, 62, was arrested Thursday on four counts of felony cruelty to children and three counts of felony false imprisonment following an investigation into a children's ministry he operates. (Johnson County Sheriff's Office)

Credit: Contributed

David Fahey, 62, was arrested Thursday on four counts of felony cruelty to children and three counts of felony false imprisonment following an investigation into a children's ministry he operates. (Johnson County Sheriff's Office)

Credit: Contributed

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David Fahey, 62, was arrested Thursday on four counts of felony cruelty to children and three counts of felony false imprisonment following an investigation into a children's ministry he operates. (Johnson County Sheriff's Office)

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Meanwhile, state protective services has been dismantling the Faheys’ ministry. Four children, two of whom the Faheys had adopted, were removed from the home last month. Four adults in their care, all with severe disabilities, remained in the home Thursday, with Adult Protective Services in the process of removing them too.

With Fahey jailed on Thursday morning, his biological son, Logan Fahey, had been left to care for the remaining adults. Two have genetic disorders, all four are in diapers and none can walk on their own.

“I don’t condone anything illegal, but I don’t believe my dad did anything illegal,” said Logan Fahey, who is a captain with the Wrightsville Police Department. “I think my dad is a good-hearted man.”

Since 2005, David Fahey and his wife had been operating The King’s Cleft, a Christian nonprofit organization located on 20 acres in a rural area between Macon and Savannah. The Faheys took in children with severe disabilities from around the world who had been adopted by American parents but then given up because of immense challenges in caregiving, according to a profile of the ministry published in Georgia Magazine in 2013.

Over the years they’ve adopted children with Down syndrome and autism, among other disabilities, as well as some American children with severe behavioral disorders, their son said. Some of their children hailed from Ukraine, Estonia, China, India, Vietnam and Africa, the magazine article said. The inside of the home has a wood-burning stove and is lined with packed bookcases and religious posters and banners on the wall, including several displaying the Ten Commandments.

Outside, in the front yard, a family cemetery is surrounded by a chain link fence. A pile of dirt is still fresh over Kathy Fahey’s grave. Surrounding her headstone are six other graves, including an infant and five other children and young adults who once lived with the family.

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The 20-acre farm known as The King's Cleft in Johnson County includes a family cemetery, where Kathy Fahey, who died last month, is buried, along with six of her children. (Johnny Edwards / Johnny.Edwards@ajc.com)

Credit: Johnny Edwards

The 20-acre farm known as The King's Cleft in Johnson County includes a family cemetery, where Kathy Fahey, who died last month, is buried, along with six of her children. (Johnny Edwards / Johnny.Edwards@ajc.com)

Credit: Johnny Edwards

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The 20-acre farm known as The King's Cleft in Johnson County includes a family cemetery, where Kathy Fahey, who died last month, is buried, along with six of her children. (Johnny Edwards / Johnny.Edwards@ajc.com)

Credit: Johnny Edwards

Credit: Johnny Edwards

According to Kathy Fahey, there were 14 children living at King’s Cleft when she recorded a 2011 fundraising video posted on the website Godtube. She described her days as beginning at 5 a.m., starting with prayer, then feedings, administering medications, baths, hair care and breakfast. Then they held Bible studies and children were homeschooled with a Christian curriculum, she said.

Authorities started asking questions about The King’s Cleft in January after a 14-year-old boy had run away from the farm repeatedly, prompting several missing child news stories and sheriff’s press releases that began to arouse suspicions in the community, said sheriff’s Maj. Bill Thompson, who heads criminal investigations. The final time the boy ran away, he got into criminal trouble by breaking into a church and stealing knives and stealing a motorbike from a neighbor, the major said.

While in the custody of juvenile authorities, the 14-year-old said he was being abused at home, Maj. Thompson said. He said the child is a hero.

“I feel like he knew he just had to do something to get our attention,” Maj. Thompson said.

Logan Fahey said the 14-year-old suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome and had become so out of control he attacked Kathy Fahey last year and left her with a cracked rib, and he had threatened to kill the Faheys in their sleep or hurt some of the other children at King’s Cleft.

He said his father resorted to handcuffing the boy’s hands together at night, or using a leg iron to restrain him to his bed frame.

Logan Fahey said DFCS has accused his father of improperly restraining other children, too, but sometimes that was necessary to keep those who are severely disabled from falling out of their chairs or harming themselves.

This wasn’t the first time such allegations of abuse had been levied against the Faheys by a child who ran away.

In 2014, a boy and a girl, both 16, were picked up in an adjoining county and told police horrific tales of abuse at the farm, according to a sheriff’s office incident report. They told of children being verbally degraded and enduring overbearing physical labor through chores.

The girl said at the time that she had been hog tied with handcuffs, leg shackles and zip ties, then left for two days without food or water, the report says.

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The King's Cleft property, near Wrightsville, where the Faheys cared for children with severe disabilities, has a trampoline and swing sets, along with farm animals, a windmill and a water tower. (Johnny Edwards / Johnny.Edwards@ajc.com)

Credit: Johnny Edwards

The King's Cleft property, near Wrightsville, where the Faheys cared for children with severe disabilities, has a trampoline and swing sets, along with farm animals, a windmill and a water tower. (Johnny Edwards / Johnny.Edwards@ajc.com)

Credit: Johnny Edwards

Combined ShapeCaption
The King's Cleft property, near Wrightsville, where the Faheys cared for children with severe disabilities, has a trampoline and swing sets, along with farm animals, a windmill and a water tower. (Johnny Edwards / Johnny.Edwards@ajc.com)

Credit: Johnny Edwards

Credit: Johnny Edwards

The sheriff’s office turned the case over to the GBI, but the agency closed it, Maj. Thompson said.

“The agent assigned to conduct the investigation determined there was not sufficient evidence to move forward with charges,” the GBI said in a statement.

Bridgett Durden’s sister, Brooke, was one of the adults still at King’s Cleft on Thursday. She said that after her mother died in 2012, her stepfather turned her sister with Down syndrome over to the ministry, then Kathy Fahey refused to ever let her visit her.

Terrified about the conditions she may have lived in, Durden said she contacted her sister’s case worker Thursday, and by the end of the day had picked her up from the farm and was driving her to her own home in Dublin.

“For a person to claim to be over this ministry to help children, but you have a family that wants to see the child, wants something to do with the child, and you’re just being straight rude and ugly toward that family keeping them away,” Durden said, “something is going on.”