Houston Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By John Tedesco, Robert Dow­nen and Lise Olsen STAFF WRITERS

Doug My­ers was sus­pected of prey­ing on chil­dren at a church in Alabama — but he went on to work at South­ern Bap­tist churches in Florida be­fore po­lice ar­rested him.

Ti­mothy Red­din was con­victed of pos­sess­ing child pornog­ra­phy, yet he was still able to serve as pas­tor of a Bap­tist church in Arkansas.

Charles Ad­cock faced 29 counts of sex­u­ally as­sault­ing a 14-year-old girl in Alabama. Then he vol­un­teered as a wor­ship pas­tor at a Bap­tist church in Texas.

The sor­did back­grounds of these South­ern Bap­tist min­is­ters didn’t stop them from find­ing new jobs at churches and work­ing in po­si­tions of trust.

They’re among at least 35 South­ern Bap­tist pas­tors, youth min­is­ters and vol­un­teers who were con­victed of sex crimes or accused of sex­ual mis­con­duct but still were al­lowed to work at churches dur­ing the past two decades, an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Hous­ton Chron­i­cle and the San An­to­nio Ex­press-News re­veals.

Some were sus­pected of mis­con­duct but were al­lowed to leave qui­etly and work else­where. Oth­ers had been ar­rested, had crim­i­nal records or even had to reg­is­ter as sex of­fend­ers but later found jobs at Bap­tist churches.

All the men worked at times for churches in the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion, the largest

coali­tion of Bap­tist churches in the United States.

The SBC has re­jected ef­forts to es­tab­lish a reg­istry to track sex­ual abuse cases and pre­vent churches from hir­ing preda­tory pas­tors. In some cases, churches knew of a pas­tor’s past and al­lowed him to work any­way. In oth­ers, the SBC’s in­ac­tion might have al­lowed of­fend­ers to move from com­mu­nity to com­mu­nity, ru­in­ing lives as they slipped through back­ground checks and found jobs at un­sus­pect­ing churches.

“There’s no other group that does pass the buck bet­ter,” said Dee Ann Miller, a long­time vic­tims’ rights ac­tivist in Kansas who speaks out against sex­ual abuse by Bap­tist min­is­ters and clergy in other faiths.

The prac­tice of hir­ing pas­tors with dis­turb­ing pasts is part of a broader prob­lem of sex abuse at South­ern Bap­tist churches across the United States, the news­pa­pers’ in­ves­ti­ga­tion shows.

At least 700 peo­ple — nearly all of them chil­dren — re­ported be­ing sex­u­ally abused by those who worked or vol­un­teered at South­ern Bap­tist churches since 1998. Records show that about 220 South­ern Bap­tist church lead­ers and vol­un­teers have been con­victed of sex crimes or took plea deals. The charges range from pos­sess­ing child pornog­ra­phy to rap­ing chil­dren.

The SBC had an op­por­tu­nity to stop some of the abuse.

In 2007, at their an­nual meet­ing in San An­to­nio, SBC lead­ers con­sid­ered a pro­posal to pre­vent sex­ual abuse by cre­at­ing a data­base of min­is­ters who had been cred­i­bly accused of sex­ual mis­con­duct. But when the SBC met again in 2008, the com­mit­tee as­signed to study the pro­posal re­jected it, say­ing it had no author­ity to com­pel churches to re­port sex of­fend­ers to the SBC.

With no cen­tral­ized method of track­ing sex abuse at South­ern Bap­tist churches, the Chron­i­cle and the Ex­press-News spent months de­vel­op­ing their own data­base of Bap­tist of­fend­ers by col­lect­ing news sto­ries and pub­lic records to find per­pe­tra­tors and gather de­tails about their cases. Stud­ies show most sex­ual as­sault vic­tims don’t con­tact po­lice, which means the true num­ber of of­fend­ers may well be higher.

Au­gust “Augie” Boto, in­terim pres­i­dent of the SBC’s Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee, said sex abuse in churches is a hor­ren­dous act. He said the news­pa­pers’ data­base would shine “the light of day upon crime.”

“Tak­ing ad­van­tage of the vul­ner­a­ble is what crim­i­nals do,” Boto said. “And when that hap­pens, our job is to voice it. Not to hide it.”

But it’s un­clear if any­thing will change at the SBC.

No re­li­gion is im­mune to sex­ual mis­con­duct in its ranks. But un­like the Ro­man Catholic Church, which is wrestling with its own sex-abuse scan­dal, Bap­tists don’t an­swer to a pope or bishop.

Lo­cal church au­ton­omy is a bedrock foun­da­tion of Bap­tist faith. There’s no dio­cese that as­signs priests to a parish. In­stead, each church is re­spon­si­ble for or­dain­ing and hir­ing its own min­is­ters.

Boto said the SBC can’t force its churches to par­tic­i­pate in any ef­forts to track sex abuse. That means each Bap­tist church in the SBC — there are 47,000 of them — de­cides for it­self how vig­or­ously to screen job ap­pli­cants.

“Pas­toral as­sign­ment among Bap­tists is kind of the Wild West,” said Ed Stet­zer, a Chris­tian au­thor and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Billy Gra­ham Cen­ter at Wheaton Col­lege in Illi­nois. “There’s no reg­u­la­tion. There’s no sys­tem.”

At some churches — es­pe­cially small ones with fewer re­sources — the con­gre­ga­tion’s idea of vet­ting a po­ten­tial pas­tor is de­cid­ing whether he’s a “good speaker,” Stet­zer said.

“The Wild Wild West ap­proach to mov­ing from church to church has some real con­se­quences for peo­ple who don’t know that the pas­tor that they called is the pas­tor that got fired for abus­ing a child three churches ago,” Stet­zer said.

‘A bad feel­ing’

In case af­ter case, South­ern Bap­tists with a sex of­fense or trou­ble­some be­hav­ior in their past have had no prob­lem find­ing jobs as preach­ers, youth group lead­ers or vol­un­teers at churches across the coun­try.

In Ge­or­gia, the pas­tor of the SBC-af­fil­i­ated East­side Bap­tist Church near Atlanta an­nounced it was re-ex­am­in­ing its hir­ing prac­tices af­ter Alexan­der Ed­wards, a vol­un­teer youth pas­tor, was ar­rested in 2016 on charges of sex­ual bat­tery in­volv­ing an 11-year-old boy he had met at the church.

It wasn’t Ed­wards’ first crim­i­nal charge. While serv­ing as a youth pas­tor at an­other Bap­tist church 160 miles away in Lee County south of Atlanta, Ed­wards was ar­rested in Au­gust 2013 and charged with us­ing the in­ter­net to find a child for a sex act. That case was still pend­ing when Ed­wards be­gan vol­un­teer­ing at East­side. He was con­victed of the 2016 charges, and the charge in Lee County was dis­missed.

“It was in­cred­i­bly painful,” said the cur­rent pas­tor at East­side, John Hull, who blamed Ed­wards’ hir­ing on em­ploy­ment prac­tices that have since been re­vised.

Hull em­pha­sized that Ed­wards no longer worked at East­side when the abuse oc­curred. But he had met the vic­tim and his fam­ily at the church and in­gra­ti­ated him­self with them.

“A child was hurt, and it hap­pened on our watch,” Hull said.

In Arkansas, Ti­mothy Red­din was di­rec­tor of mis­sions for the SBC-af­fil­i­ated Cen­tral Bap­tist As­so­ci­a­tion in 1998 when he was caught with child pornog­ra­phy and sen­tenced to 27 months in pri­son.

Red­din told the fed­eral judge at his sen­tenc­ing hear­ing in 2000 that he would never mo­lest a child. But last July, author­i­ties say, Red­din at­tempted to so­licit a 14year-old mi­nor for sex in an on­line chat. At the time, Red­din was pas­tor of Turner Street Bap­tist Church in Spring­dale, Ark., de­spite his fed­eral child-pornog­ra­phy con­vic­tion.

The “mi­nor” was ac­tu­ally Ger­ald Faulkner, an un­der­cover agent with the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity who spe­cial­ized in cases of child ex­ploita­tion and child pornog­ra­phy.

“I’ll never tell!” Red­din told the agent in an on­line mes­sage. “I could go to jail!”

Red­din pleaded guilty to a charge of at­tempted en­tice­ment of a mi­nor to en­gage in sex­ual ac­tiv­ity; in early Fe­bru­ary, he was sen­tenced to 10 years in pri­son. His lawyer de­clined to dis­cuss the case.

In Alabama, Charles Ad­cock was charged in 2015 with 29 counts of rape and sodomy in­volv­ing a 14-year-old girl he met at the SBC-af­fil­i­ated Wood­ward Av­enue Bap­tist Church in Mus­cle Shoals, where he had worked as a youth min­is­ter a few years ear­lier.

While out on bail un­der the su­per­vi­sion of his par­ents, Ad­cock moved to Texas, where First Bap­tist Church in Bed­ford al­lowed Ad­cock to vol­un­teer as a mu­sic min­is­ter at wor­ship ser­vices, de­spite know­ing about his ar­rest.

“There’s not a chance in the world that I would ever hire some­body if they were fac­ing charges like this,” said Wil­liam Rush­ing, the cur­rent pas­tor of the church in Mus­cle Shoals. “You just got to be a big id­iot to say, ‘Hey, you know what? I’m go­ing to hire this per­son even though they’ve got this ac­cu­sa­tion against them.’ ”

Ad­cock in­sisted he was in­no­cent. With­out ad­mit­ting any guilt, he pleaded to a sin­gle charge of sec­ond-de­gree sodomy in Jan­uary 2016 and served 15 months. He is now a regis­tered sex of­fender.

“He has al­ways, and con­tin­ues to as­sert, his in­no­cence,” his lawyer, Chris Rippy, wrote in a let­ter to the Chron­i­cle.

Steve Knott, at the time the pas­tor of First Bap­tist in Bed­ford, said an­other pas­tor had hired Ad­cock. He wasn’t al­lowed un­su­per­vised ac­cess to chil­dren, court records show. That was lit­tle so­lace to vic­tims’ ad­vo­cates who protested the de­ci­sion.

“To qui­etly hire an accused child mo­lester as a mu­sic min­is­ter, which au­to­mat­i­cally places him in a po­si­tion of trust, was as­tound­ingly reck­less and ir­re­spon­si­ble on the part of the church lead­er­ship,” the Sur­vivors Net­work of Those Abused by Priests said in a state­ment. “It shows lack of sound judg­ment in the care and pro­tec­tion of the chil­dren of their church.”

‘Bro­ken Trust’

The SBC does not keep statis­tics on min­is­ters accused of abuse, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to com­pare the rate of sex­ual mis­con­duct at SBC churches to other re­li­gions, such as Catholi­cism.

“The prob­lem with Protes­tants is, we don’t have the abil­ity to track,” said Wade Burleson, a Bap­tist pas­tor from Ok­la­homa who pro­posed cre­at­ing a data­base of of­fend­ers at the SBC meet­ing in 2007. “Where we should be skew­ered is that lead­er­ship is act­ing as if they don’t care to track. OK, so which is worse, track­ing and know­ing and do­ing noth­ing, or know­ing there’s a prob­lem and re­fus­ing to track?”

Church au­ton­omy didn’t stop one of the SBC’s state con­ven­tions in Texas from keep­ing its own list of of­fend­ers.

Un­der mount­ing pres­sure from crit­ics in 2007, the Bap­tist Gen­eral Con­ven­tion of Texas, one of many groups that fall un­der the SBC um­brella, pub­lished a web­page called “Bro­ken Trust” that in­clud-

ed a list of eight Bap­tist pas­tors who had been con­victed of sex crimes.

The con­ven­tion also kept a longer, con­fi­den­tial list of oth­ers who had been cred­i­bly accused of sex­ual mis­con­duct. Churches could con­tact the or­ga­ni­za­tion to see if a job ap­pli­cant was on the list.

One of the min­is­ters on the list was John McKay, a pas­tor at First Bap­tist Church of Hondo, 40 miles west of San An­to­nio. A charis­matic Marine vet­eran who had a strong fol­low­ing, McKay had once re­ceived a mil­i­tary com­men­da­tion for keep­ing his men out of trou­ble overseas.

But in the spring of 2003, the par­ents of a girl who at­tended the church sus­pected McKay was sleep­ing with their teenage daugh­ter. The girl’s dis­traught fa­ther asked Me­d­ina County Sher­iff ’s Sgt. Wayne Springer to in­ves­ti­gate. Springer checked McKay’s em­ploy­ment his­tory and dis­cov­ered a record of ques­tion­able be­hav­ior toward women at other churches.

“I started look­ing into his past and we started call­ing these other churches where he’d been,” re­called Springer, now an in­ves­ti­ga­tor with the district at­tor­ney’s of­fice in Me­d­ina County. “And there wasn’t one of those churches that we called that didn’t tell me some­thing bad about this guy.”

Springer was told that McKay liked to rub his arm against the breasts of church sec­re­taries when he signed pa­per­work at the of­fice. One Bap­tist deacon, Ed­ward Lozano, told Springer that McKay had com­mit­ted “in­dis­cre­tions” with mar­ried women at a now-closed Bap­tist church in San An­to­nio, ac­cord­ing to Springer’s in­ves­tiga­tive re­port about McKay.

In Hondo, McKay be­gan “grooming” a teenager in his con­gre­ga­tion when she was only 13 years old, telling her how spe­cial she was and how she was more ma­ture than other girls, the re­port states.

Af­ter two years, the re­la­tion­ship turned sex­ual. The girl was 15; McKay was 57.

McKay drove her to mo­tels in Devine and San An­to­nio weekly to have sex — a sec­ond-de­gree felony in Texas, since she was un­der the age of 17.

Springer ar­rested McKay on April 16, 2003. Af­ter plead­ing guilty to sex­ual as­sault and serv­ing nearly nine years in a Huntsville pri­son, McKay moved to San An­to­nio, where he lived as a regis­tered sex of­fender.

McKay’s wife an­swered the door at their house in Au­gust. She said he was in the hospi­tal be­ing treated for can­cer and was un­avail­able for an in­ter­view. They had put his past be­hind them, she said, and didn’t want to talk. McKay died in Septem­ber.

McKay didn’t face any crim­i­nal charges re­lated to his pre­vi­ous em­ploy­ment in San An­to­nio, and it’s un­clear if his past em­ploy­ers told First Bap­tist Church of Hondo about their con­cerns.

Mike Vasquez, se­nior pas­tor at the church in Hondo, said back­ground checks are con­ducted for all em­ploy­ees, es­pe­cially any­one deal­ing with chil­dren. The McKay case was be­fore his time, Vasquez said, but he was told the church fired McKay.

“They dealt with it pretty swiftly,” Vasquez said.

Springer said the fa­ther of McKay’s vic­tim said he “should have known bet­ter” but trusted McKay.

Af­ter all, McKay was the pas­tor of his church.

No sil­ver bul­let

The Bap­tist Gen­eral Con­ven­tion of Texas, also known as Texas Bap­tists, even­tu­ally re­moved the pub­lic list with McKay and other of­fend­ers and stopped main­tain­ing its larger con­fi­den­tial list, say­ing it was rarely be­ing used and that ef­fec­tively deal­ing with sex­ual mis­con­duct “falls di­rectly on the lo­cal con­gre­ga­tion.”

“While the list was cre­ated out of a de­sire to help churches, uti­liza­tion was low and main­te­nance was chal­leng­ing,” Texas Bap­tists said in a writ­ten state­ment.

“There were con­cerns about ac­cu­racy, given that the con­ven­tion did not have the ca­pac­ity to con­duct in­ves­ti­ga­tions, and churches in their au­ton­omy were free to choose whether or not to uti­lize the ser­vice,” the state­ment read. “At the same time, the qual­ity and avail­abil­ity of on­line back­ground checks and reg­istry searches in­creased dra­mat­i­cally.”

A crim­i­nal-back­ground check of­ten in­cludes a na­tion­wide search of pub­lic records. But com­pa­nies that of­fer such searches rely on a hodge­podge of data from thou­sands of county court­houses across the United States. In many cases, crim­i­nal records aren’t on­line at all, cre­at­ing gap­ing holes in the sys­tem.

Check­ing sex of­fender reg­istries isn’t al­ways ef­fec­tive, ei­ther. Sex crimes are of­ten dif­fi­cult to pros­e­cute, and some church lead­ers plead to less-se­vere charges that don’t re­quire them to reg­is­ter as a sex of­fender.

Given the lim­i­ta­tions of back­ground checks, the pro­posal for an in­ter­nal SBC data­base of of­fend­ers could be a pow­er­ful way for Bap­tist churches to po­lice their ranks, said Sean Bigley, a lawyer in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia whose firm spe­cial­izes in back­ground in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

“On the whole, the idea has merit,” Bigley said. “I don’t think any­one’s go­ing to ar­gue with want­ing to pro­tect chil­dren from preda­tors. That’s cer­tainly an hon­or­able thing.”

But many em­ploy­ers — not just churches — are re­luc­tant to re­lease any­thing be­yond ba­sic in­for­ma­tion about a for­mer em­ployee be­cause they’re afraid of a defama­tion suit, said Michael Hol­land, a San An­to­nio lawyer who rep­re­sents em­ploy­ers.

“It’s a tough prob­lem,” Hol­land said. “It’s a sad, frus­trat­ing topic, and I re­ally feel bad for peo­ple who have been as­saulted by folks in the min­istry.”

Burleson, the Bap­tist pas­tor from Ok­la­homa who pro­posed a data­base of of­fend­ers back in 2007, has had years to think about han­dling the sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion re­spon­si­bly.

Burleson pri­mar­ily views the data­base as a place for cred­i­ble ac­cu­sa­tions — cases where in­ves­ti­ga­tors con­cluded some­thing hap­pened. Burleson also would en­cour­age other Protes­tant de­nom­i­na­tions to par­tic­i­pate.

Burleson said the SBC should pay the cost of main­tain­ing the data­base. To avoid any hint of bias, he says that an in­de­pen­dent non­profit should over­see the data and dili­gently seek out court cases al­leg­ing mis­con­duct so it’s not en­tirely re­liant on churches to re­port wrong­do­ing.

“Who­ever’s in power has a ten­dency to want to pro­tect their buddies,” Burleson said. “And I don’t like a data­base in the hands of pow­er­ful peo­ple in the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion.”

Pas­tor Doug’s rule

Some min­is­ters move from church to church for years un­til they’re caught.

Con­cerns about Doug My­ers’ be­hav­ior around young boys fol­lowed him from Alabama to Florida be­fore he was fi­nally caught, then con­victed in 2007.

Charles Canida first met My­ers in 2000 at Con­cord Bap­tist Church in Rus­sel­lville, Ala., where Canida was a deacon. My­ers came from a South­ern Bap­tist church in Mary­land.

My­ers quickly grav­i­tated toward boys in the youth group, Canida said, de­spite be­ing hired to min­is­ter to adults. Canida was soon sus­pi­cious.

“I just had a bad feel­ing about him,” Canida said in a re­cent in­ter­view.

The con­cerns grew when, a few months af­ter My­ers’ ar­rival, a boy told Canida about “Pas­tor Doug’s” rule: Ev­ery­one had to swim naked.

Months later, a mother told Canida that My­ers “held her son down on a ta­ble at the church on his back ... and was blow­ing on his stom­ach to tickle him,” Canida said. “She was lit­er­ally in sham­bles.”

Canida said he met with the county’s district at­tor­ney but no charges were ever filed.

Con­cerns about My­ers even­tu­ally split the con­gre­ga­tion at Con­cord. Canida and oth­ers started a new church; My­ers moved to Florida, where he es­tab­lished new churches for a few years with help from state and lo­cal Bap­tist as­so­ci­a­tions.

Canida wasn’t sur­prised when he found out My­ers was ar­rested. My­ers ad­mit­ted to mo­lest­ing a mi­nor he met at a church in Eustis, Fla., ac­cord­ing to a prob­a­ble cause af­fi­davit filed in Lake County in 2006; he pleaded guilty a year later and was sen­tenced to seven years in pri­son.

The fam­ily of the Florida vic­tim sued, al­leg­ing that the Florida Bap­tist Con­ven­tion and the Lake County Bap­tist As­so­ci­a­tion had failed to con­tact My­ers’ pre­vi­ous churches be­fore en­trust­ing him to start churches in the Sun­shine State. The vic­tim, who ac­cord­ing to the suit was 11 when he met My­ers, said the as­saults caused “shame, hu­mil­i­a­tion … sui­ci­dal ideations and night ter­rors.”

A Lake County jury later awarded the vic­tim $12.5 mil­lion. The law­suit was even­tu­ally set­tled for an undis­closed amount of money, court records show.

Be­fore his re­lease from pri­son in De­cem­ber 2012, new al­le­ga­tions sur­faced in Mary­land, where he had been a pas­tor. My­ers was ar­rested on charges of cus­to­dial child abuse and sex offenses against mul­ti­ple vic­tims from 1995-2001. He was con­victed in Calvert County, Md., and is serv­ing a 15-year sen­tence.

Train­ing and trans­parency

SBC of­fi­cials stress the im­por­tance of con­duct­ing crim­i­nal back­ground checks. The SBC’s pub­lish­ing arm, Life­way Chris­tian Re­sources, of­fers dis­counted screen­ings to churches through a part­ner­ship with a back­ground­check company. They’ve han­dled 320,000 checks since 2009.

But even if no crim­i­nal records are found, Boto said, that doesn’t mean a church’s job is done.

When Texas Bap­tists stopped com­pil­ing its reg­istry of of­fend­ers, the state con­ven­tion part­nered with Min­istrySafe, an or­ga­ni­za­tion in Fort Worth that trains churches to de­velop stronger poli­cies and tech­niques to pre­vent sex­ual abuse.

Katie Swaf­ford, di­rec­tor of coun­sel­ing ser­vices at Texas Bap­tists, said the train­ing ses­sions have been eye-open­ing. One les­son is that back­ground checks, while im­por­tant, won’t catch ev­ery threat be­cause most pe­dophiles don’t yet have a crim­i­nal record.

That means church mem­bers need to ask bet­ter screen­ing ques­tions dur­ing the hir­ing process and learn how to spot preda­tory be­hav­ior.

“If you don’t un­der­stand the risk, you’re prob­a­bly not pre­par­ing for the right thing,” Swaf­ford said.

Larry Baker and Rex Miller, two FBI agents as­signed to the San An­to­nio Child Ex­ploita­tion Task Force, have spent years un­cov­er­ing crimes against chil­dren. They once in­ves­ti­gated a pop­u­lar youth pas­tor who was al­ways around kids — but in­ter­acted only with boys.

The pas­tor had “zero in­volve­ment” with girls, even though he was re­spon­si­ble for them.

“It’s tough,” Miller said. “For a lot of peo­ple, it’s hard to imag­ine that some­one would have a sex­ual in­ter­est in chil­dren.”

It was that very dy­namic — the ten­dency toward de­nial — that made it dif­fi­cult for peo­ple to believe the al­le­ga­tions against McKay, the charis­matic for­mer Marine who served as pas­tor in Hondo.

“Ev­ery­body just thought he was the best guy,” said Springer, the Me­d­ina County in­ves­ti­ga­tor who led the case.

McKay’s charm blinded par­ents and church lead­ers to the warn­ing signs: the hugs McKay gave his un­der­age vic­tim at soft­ball games; the sus­pi­cious phone calls at her home; the lit­tle fa­vors McKay did for her.

Af­ter McKay’s ar­rest, some who at­tended the church shunned Springer as if he were the crim­i­nal, he said.

Springer said it’s cru­cial for church con­gre­ga­tions to un­der­stand that sex­ual preda­tors don’t “groom” only vic­tims to gain their trust. They groom ev­ery­one around them so no one sus­pects a thing.

“He was ev­ery­thing that the com­mu­nity wanted,” Springer said. “But (they) didn’t know about the devil in­side him.”

Com­ing Wed­nes­day: Tar­get­ing the youth

Jon Shap­ley / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

Wayne Springer is chief in­ves­ti­ga­tor for the district at­tor­ney’s of­fice in Me­d­ina County. At the time he in­ves­ti­gated for­mer pas­tor John McKay, Springer worked as a sex-crimes in­ves­ti­ga­tor for the county sher­iff ’s of­fice.

Jon Shap­ley / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

John McKay was pas­tor of First Bap­tist Church in Hondo when he was ar­rested.


John McKay pleaded guilty to sex­ual as­sault and served nearly nine years in a Huntsville pri­son.

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