Four women wanted for their involvement in a Godwin-based organization that lawmen said forced children to work for little or no money turned themselves in to authorities Thursday night, the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office said, leaving two suspects still at-large.
First-appearance hearings were held Friday afternoon for Irish Williams, Kassia Rogers, Shirmitka McNatt and her mother, Shirley McNatt. Each faces charges involving child abuse, operating a continuing criminal enterprise, involuntary servitude involving a child, conspiracy and misdemeanor contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Bail was set for the women at the time of their arrest, said Lt. Sean Swain, but all were raised at their court appearances at the Cumberland County Detention Center. Bail now stands at $350,000 for Shirley McNatt, $325,000 each for Rogers and Williams, and $70,000 for Shirmitka McNatt.
The four women lived on a property commonly referred to as McCollum Ranch at 5953 McCollum Road. It is adjacent to Interstate 95. Investigators say they are followers of John C. McCollum, 67, who claimed to be the chief apostle of a religious organization he was operating as early as the 1980s.
McCollum was arrested in December on similar charges. He was jailed in the Cumberland County Detention Center with bail set at $1.1 million. WRAL reported he has since been moved to Central Prison for health reasons.
Four of 10 suspects were arrested Wednesday: John McCollum, Cornelia McDonald, Brenda Hall and Pamela Puga Luna. Still at-large are Daffene Edge and Earlene Hayat. Anyone with information on their whereabouts is asked to contact the Sheriff’s Office at 323-1500 or Crimestoppers at 483-TIPS (8477).
The Sheriff’s Office said the communal property profited from McCollum and others operating at least three John C’s Fish Markets and mobile grills in Fayetteville, and a John C’s Fish Market in Lumberton. Former residents said McCollum and others held children between the ages of 9 and 17 “in involuntary servitude,” a news release said.
The Sheriff’s Office was alerted March 2 of last year by the Raleigh Police Department of a reported fraud involving high school transcripts at Wake Technical Community College. Raleigh police said it was perpetrated by members of the ranch and involved children at the ranch.
In August, Fayetteville police were told a 15-year-old ran away from the ranch and was gone three weeks before being reported missing by his mother. The teen was located off Rosehill Road and told investigators about the ranch. Investigators determined children were held “in involuntary servitude by means of force fraud, or coercion, for profiting and funding the McCollum Ranch.”
Staff writer Nancy McCleary can be reached at email@example.com or 486-3568.