The wind chill was well below zero when the 12-year-old boy limped his way through the snow to a stranger, wearing only basketball shorts and a T-shirt.
“Help me,” the boy yelled. He later revealed a black eye, large whip marks, scabs on his back and bruises on his arms, backside and legs — one the size of a football, according to police.
The boy had been running away from a church in Minneapolis, where police say a pastor physically abused him over the course of four days, repeatedly beating him with a two-by-four wooden plank and an electrical cord as punishment for rejecting his faith.
Police charged the pastor, Dong Wook Kim, 51, with two counts of assault in the second and third degree, and one count of malicious punishment of a child, all felonies, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday. The pastor’s 19-year-old son, Joo Seong Kim, faces the same charges.
The boy told police that for two to three weeks, the pastor and pastor’s son would take him into the windowless basement of the church — called Good News Church — to discipline him. Dong Wook Kim told the boy’s father that because talking to the boy had not worked, the next step would be to use the “stick,” the pastor’s son told police. The boy reportedly told the pastor that he wanted to test God, which made the pastor angry.
On Dec. 14, the boy told police, the pastor made him hold a push-up position and plank for an extended period of time. When he could not hold the position, the pastor kicked him in the head and face. The next day, the pastor’s son made him get into a plank position again, hitting him in the back and on the foot with a stick — about 4 feet long — causing him bruising on his foot and bleeding in his big toe.
That day, at about 4 a.m., the pastor used an electrical cord to whip the boy more than 10 times, Dong Wook Kim later admitted to police, adding that the boy’s father had slapped the 12-year-old several times in the face.
On Dec. 16, the boy reported, the pastor’s son punched him in the head and stomach multiple times, causing him buzzing in the ears. The pastor also reportedly slammed the boy’s head into a door frame multiple times, injuring his head, face and ear.
On Dec. 17, when the boy’s parents called the pastor and his son to pick him up from home, the pastor’s son pulled the boy by his hair, taking him to the church’s basement. He once more instructed him to remain in a plank position while he whipped him with a stick. The pastor’s son then asked the boy to remove his sweatshirt and jacket while he retrieved an extension cord. It was then that the 12-year-old decided to run away, according to the police report.
Dong Wook Kim admitted to using a “stick” — which police later discovered to be a two-by-four plank — to beat the boy 20 times with considerable force, according to the complaint. The pastor said that he “was really upset at the time” over the boy’s rejection of God.
“I lost control,” the pastor said. He also admitted to not calling 911 when the boy ran away from the church, under-dressed for the freezing temperatures.
The pastor said the boy’s parents have always followed his leadership in the punishment of children. He also admitted to hitting the boy’s 4-year-old sister on three or four occasions, with her parents present, by delivering blows to her feet or palms with a paint stir stick, causing her to scream. The girl was taken into protective custody after the pastor’s arrest.
Both the Kims are currently in custody and being held on $50,000 bail.
A Google review of the church said the majority of the congregation is Burmese and “warm and friendly.” It hosts seasonal youth programs during the summer and Christmas seasons, the reviewer said, including morning Korean classes and soccer on the weekends, making it “great for elementary and middle school kids.”
In a letter given to local news station KSTP that’s intended for the judge in the case, the pastor’s wife wrote that her husband and son did not have malicious intentions when hitting the boy.
“It was out of greed of wanting to make him a better person,” she wrote. “We were like family.”
The pastor, a minister for 14 years, served in the Korean military for 16 years before moving to the United States with his family, his wife wrote.
Since both of the 12-year-old boy’s parents worked, her husband would pick him up every day after school and bring him to the church. The family would even eat dinner with the boy, she said.
“If it were any other child they would’ve never set a finger on them,” she wrote. She acknowledged that her husband and son did wrong, and asked for forgiveness.
“We wanted him to be better and be set to the right mind,” she said. “It was out of discipline, not rage.”
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