Those who know him say it’s hard to believe. A youth minister and retired high school coach has been arrested for child molestation and sexual misconduct with a minor.
Police say Steven Harding had sex with a 14-year-old girl in his home and touched her inappropriately in the church where he worked. The victim tells authorities the incidents happened about three years ago when she was 14 years old.
"He was very well respected in the community. [He’s] been here for years and years," said one parent, whose son had Harding as a coach years ago. "In fact, [I’m in] disbelief. We'll believe it when they prove it."
He and others are shocked by the recent allegations against Harding. He is a youth minister at the New Palestine United Methodist Church and former New Palestine High School wrestling coach. Harding retired as coach this spring.
"It's really upsetting because he seemed like a really good guy to me," said Shannon Pratt, a senior at New Palestine High School. "I [work] for the yearbook so I used to take pictures for [the wrestling team] all the time. I mean, he was really nice."
Court documents say Harding and the victim are family friends. The first incident happened when she spent the night at Harding's home.
The teenager told investigators "while she was in bed, Harding came in the bedroom and told her that he wished she could stay with him and that he loved her. The victim then said Harding removed her clothes and his pants."
She told investigators Harding then had sex with her.
Authorities say Harding also fondled the victim at the New Palestine United Methodist Church where Harding works. She says "Harding had rubbed her breasts on the outside of her clothing and put his hand down her pants."
Church leaders say Harding is on administrative leave until the case is settled. They released a statement saying: "We deeply regret any pain or embarrassment this incident has caused to either the complainant and family or to Steve and the Harding family."
Back in November, Harding did agree to a polygraph exam. He denied having sex with the victim but authorities say, based on test results, he was lying.