CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Charleston man who admitted to sexually abusing two boys at a vacation Bible school in 2017 is heading to prison.

Rhett Bowen

Rhett Bowen, 55, was sentenced to the maximum prison time of 10-50 years during a hearing before Kanawha County Circuit Judge Maryclaire Akers Monday morning.

Bowen previously pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual abuse. Each of those charges carried a 5-25 year prison sentence.

The abuse occurred at the Morris Memorial United Methodist Church’s Vacation Bible School in Kanawha City while Bowen was a volunteer. He was arrested in 2019 after additional victims came forward.

A mother of one of the victims addressed Bowen directly in court Monday. She testified her son was 9 years old when he was abused by Bowen and that’s he’s endured psychological trauma since then.

“My son went from never meeting a stranger and being a shining light in a room to being a depressed, isolated little boy on sleeping aids and anxiety medication all at the age of 10 because of you,” she said.

The mother said her son used to be active but gave up karate, swimming and soccer out of fear of being touched or without privacy. The boy, who is now 15 years old, addressed his abuser in court telling Bowen he used to cut himself to ease the pain.

“My life has negatively been impacted, ” he said. “I was in a deep rut and a deep void of darkness and confusion that I am just now getting out of.”

Bowen’s brother Russ Bowen then told the judge he knows a crime was committed and that should come with consequences; however, his brother needs mental help more than anything.

“I do know my brother is not a monster. I’m not saying he’s perfect, your honor. I think he needs some counseling and I think he needs some treatment,” Russ Bowen said.

Bowen’s attorney claimed his client didn’t know what he was doing was a crime and that Bowen acted on “compulsion.”

Akers argued that Bowen continued to violate the terms of his bond while on home confinement by searching the internet for young boys in 2023.

“If you have a compulsion to search for the type of victims that you already are indicted for, that would lean me toward saying that is a criminal mind,” the judge said.

Prosecutors called it a “heinous” act to which Akers agreed.

“I cannot ignore that he preyed upon children in a church setting. I cannot ignore that while on home confinement on the explicit terms that he not use social media and that he not use the internet, he continued to do that,” she said.

The judge went on to say innocent families should not have to endure this pain.

“These people were going to church, minding their own business and being good people when they were victimized by your client and I can’t ignore that,” Akers told Bowen’s attorney. “I won’t ignore the types of damage to children that they will carry for the rest of their lives.”

In addition to Bowen’s prison time, the judge also sentenced him to the maximum of 50 years supervision after his release.

The boy’s mother said her family will never speak of Bowen after leaving the courthouse Monday.

“From this day forward, we will never speak your name again. You will only be addressed as the child molesting monster who finally got what he deserved,” she said.