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Former LI woman sues ex-Salvation Army commander for childhood abuse

Nicole Sprout, 42, speaks about sexual abuse she

Nicole Sprout, 42, speaks about sexual abuse she allegedly endured as a child on May 14, 2019 in New York City. Credit: News12 Long Island

A former Long Island woman alleged in a lawsuit that she was repeatedly sexually abused as a teen by an East Northport Salvation Army commander and that organization officials did not inform authorities when they learned of the accusations.

Nicole Sprout, 42, who now lives in Florida, alleged in the suit — filed Monday in Manhattan Supreme Court under New York's Child Victims Act — that ex-Salvation Army commander Gary Crowell sexually abused her between the ages of 13 and 16.

“Despite years of counseling, I was left with a feeling of inadequacy, eating disorders, relationship difficulties … and so much more," Sprout said in a written statement. 

"I loved the Salvation Army and all that it represents," added Sprout, who is now a teacher, wife and mother of three. "I trusted them as the church I grew up in, but felt incredibly betrayed when the leaders I once admired did nothing to hold my abuser accountable." 

The lawsuit was filed against Crowell, his wife, Carol Beth Crowell, the Salvation Army of the United States as well as the Salvation Army's Greater New York Division and Empire State Division.

The Salvation Army issued a written statement saying that the organization would not comment on the specifics of Sprout's lawsuit.

"We deeply regret any injury to Ms. Sprout that may have been caused by any former Salvation Army personnel and we want to assure her and the public that we take very seriously our commitment to maintaining the safety of those we serve," said Chaz Watson, territorial director of advancement for the Salvation Army Eastern USA Territory.

Watson added, "We can confirm that Gary Crowell was terminated as a minister of The Salvation Army when the allegations came to light many years ago."

Attempts to reach Gary and Carol Beth Crowell, who live in Maine, were unsuccessful.

Sprout is seeking unspecified monetary damages in the suit.

Sprout said that she grew up on Long Island with an emotionally unstable single mother. Sprout began attending church at the Salvation Army in East Northport, where the Crowells were the commanding officers, she said in the suit.

The Crowells became a guiding force in her young life, and she began babysitting their two children and sleeping over at their home, she said in the lawsuit. Gary Crowell began grooming her and then escalated to sexual abuse when she turned 13, the lawsuit alleges.

When the Crowells were relocated by the Salvation Army to upstate Lockport, Sprout went to live with them with her mother's permission, the suit said. Gary Crowell allegedly raped her on many occasions between the ages of 14 and 16, the suit said.

Sprout was so upset she became physically ill and started crying at night, the suit said. Carol Beth Crowell allegedly took note of this and learned from her that someone had been "hurting her," though Sprout would not identify the person. Despite being an officer of the Salvation Army, Carol Beth Crowell did not notify law enforcement or social services, according to the lawsuit.

At the age of 16, Sprout was listening to Gary Crowell preach in a church when she began to yell "rapist" over and over again, according to the lawsuit. Sprout later informed Carol Beth Crowell that the rapist was her husband, the suit said, adding that Carol Beth Crowell again did not notify law enforcement or social services.

Gary Crowell and Carol Beth Crowell offered "later apologies," according to the lawsuit. A news release accompanying the lawsuit said that more than 20 years later, Gary Crowell contacted Sprout on Facebook and apologized. In the apology, Crowell said he had disclosed the abuse to higher-ranking officials within the Salvation Army, according to the news release. He said he was removed from his ministry, the release said.

Carol Beth Crowell remains active with the Salvation Army in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, according to the news release. Sprout filed a criminal complaint against Gary Crowell with the Lockport Police Department this year, the lawsuit said.

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