A man from the small town of Dearborn, Missouri, was sentenced to 50 years in prison on Oct. 30 after being charged and convicted with repeatedly abusing a child in the town for over a decade.
Darren Paden, 52, was the former chief of Dearborn's volunteer fire department, father of seven children, and was generally known as an upstanding citizen by other Dearborn residents, The Kansas City Star reports.
That's why townspeople were shocked when he pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a young girl between 200 and 300 times over the last decade. Paden's confession and sentencing has divided the small town of fewer than 500 people between those who believe that Paden is guilty, and those who do not.
Paden pleaded guilty to abusing the girl since the age of about 5; she is now 18. In the week leading up to Paden's conviction, the girl said that while she had received some strong words of support, she had been declared a liar by some residents in the town where she had lived her whole life. Paden's supporters included members of his own family, church elders, a former bank president and several other prominent residents.
“I called a lady about a house she was renting,” the victim said in an interview, “and I told her my name, and she said, ‘What’s your name again?’ and I told her and she said ‘I don’t want to rent to you’ and then hung up on me.”
The girl says that other residents have shunned her altogether, and that people who would formerly strike up a friendly conversation now will not even look at her.
Platte County prosecutors were disappointed at the number of residents who continue to support Paden even after his sentence, HLN reported. Prosecuting attorney Eric Zahnd said that the support for Paden deeply troubled him.
“It breaks my heart to see pillars of this community—a former county official, a bank president, church leaders, a school board member, current and former school employees—appear to choose the side of a child molester over the child he repeatedly abused,” Zahnd said in a news release.