Claiming that church leaders knew about his history of sexual misconduct and allowed him unsupervised access to minors anyway, the family of the latest victims of former SM East student Kessler Lichtenegger have sued Westside Family Church in Lenexa.
The civil petition, filed in Johnson County District Court Wednesday afternoon, says that church officials were well aware Lichtenegger, who lived in Prairie Village, had “an extensive and shocking history of committing sexual abuse against children” and consequently made the constant accompaniment of Lichtenegger’s father a condition of his presence at the church. But, according to the lawsuit, the church did not follow its own guidelines, and eventually allowed Lichtenegger to “interact with and supervise young children” at Westside. During a Westside children’s program in the summer of 2014, Lichtenegger, then 17, had a sexual interaction with one of the defendants, then 13, in a van on church property “while a children’s church service was going on,” according to the suit.
(KidsGIG, Westside’s annual summer vacation bible school program, is currently under way at the church).
“All key church leaders admitted to law enforcement officers that the Church did not enforce its own protocols meant to prevent Lichtenegger from gaining access to children,” reads the petition.
As a result of the charges stemming from that incident and subsequent criminal conduct he had with the first victim and her sister in the following weeks, Lichtenegger was sentenced to 17 years in prison. He is currently housed in the Ellsworth Correctional Facility.
The criminal charges were set in motion when the father of one of the victims saw her exchanging Facebook messages with Lichtenegger in August 2014. She was 11 and he was 17 at the time. He was charged in March of 2015, when he turned 18, with rape or intercourse with no consent along with several other charges. In October he was sentenced after pleading guilty to amended charges of attempted rape and attempted electronic solicitation with a child under the age of 14.
At his sentencing, prosecutors said Lichtenegger’s criminal history as a juvenile played a role in the length of his sentence, including two prior felonies against persons when he was a juvenile. One of those was an attack on a fellow SM East student in 2011, documented in court records as part of a civil suit by the girl’s parents.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case, the two unnamed minor victims and an unnamed relation, are seeking expenses for the medical and psychological treatment they’ve had to undergo in the wake of the incidents, which the suit says has led to “anxiety, guilt, depression, shock, emotional distress, physical manifestations of emotional distress, embarrassment, loss of self-esteem, disgrace, humiliation, and loss of enjoyment of life.”
The full suit is embedded below.