EVERETT — For over a year the 14-year-old girl didn’t tell anyone, including law enforcement, that she had been raped by an Everett pastor.
For months they exchanged texts, often late into the night. The pastor, 36, shared personal details about his life, saying he trusted her. She talked about her problems at school. The girl later reported he made her feel special.
Eli Antonio Diaz-Valdez was sentenced last week in Snohomish County Superior Court to two years and 10 months in prison, for third-degree rape of a child and communicating with a minor for immoral purposes.
Diaz-Valdez was pastor of a small Spanish-speaking congregation that rented space at the Sanctuary Covenant Church in Everett.
“(The girl) was betrayed and abused by a church authority, her pastor,” a community corrections officer wrote in a pre-sentence report. “Her pastor, the person who was supposed to protect her and guide her spiritually, took advantage of her instead and used her for his own deviant sexual desires.”
The officer wrote that this likely wasn’t Diaz-Valdez’s first time abusing children, noting that his actions appeared to be those of a “well practiced sex offender.”
Diaz-Valdez first sent the girl a text message on Nov. 12, 2016, saying he just wanted to talk, according to charging papers. She obliged, “because he was a pastor and she needed to be nice to him because of that,” prosecutors wrote.
He texted her again the next Friday, asking for a picture of her, promising anything.
The girl said she was unsure of their conversations at first. Diaz-Valdez assured her he was a friend. “After a while, it did feel comfortable talking to him,” the girl later told a child forensic interviewer.
Their conversations escalated. Diaz-Valdez told the girl that they should spend the night together, explaining they already stayed up late exchanging text messages. He sent sexually suggestive messages.
Eventually, at church, Diaz-Valdez found a way to be alone with the girl. Once during a piano lesson, and another day after services ended, he hugged and kissed her out of sight of other people.
She recalled being confused. Diaz-Valdez messaged her afterward, saying he liked her, and planned to divorce his wife. He said he would do anything for her, according to court papers. Much later, the girl reported she realized she was being groomed.
The first sexual contact happened at the church. It was interrupted when Diaz-Valdez heard his wife walking up the stairs.
Then, in March 2017, after other church members left to attend a prayer meeting at a congregant’s house, Diaz-Valdez and the girl were alone. He told her it was up to her what they did next, then took her to the pastor’s office, where he raped her. Afterward, Diaz-Valdez told her that what they did wasn’t right.
The girl’s mother became concerned around the same time. Her daughter wasn’t talking or eating much, and she was texting frequently but erasing the messages immediately.
On March 15, 2017, the parents arrived at their Snohomish County home to find the defendant and their daughter alone together. Diaz-Valdez said he was in the area, visiting families, then left the house.
The next week, Diaz-Valdez left a card at the girl’s house, declaring his love for her. The girl found another note at the church during a piano lesson, saying that he loved her more every day “without limits,” according to charging documents.
When the mother confronted Diaz-Valdez at his house on March 31, 2017, he reportedly “admitted everything” and said he wanted a relationship with the girl.
At first, the girl didn’t tell detectives that she had been raped. She gave her phone to them, and they saw messages through text, Facebook and WhatsApp, “proclaiming their love for each other,” according to court papers. Prosecutors initially charged Diaz-Valdez with one count of communicating with a minor for immoral purposes.
The girl said she tried to stop talking to the defendant, but he would become angry and controlling. She became “really, really confused and did not know what to do,” prosecutors wrote.
Diaz-Valdez sent a text on Nov. 12, 2017, saying he was not going to give up on her.
A year later in 2018, after participating in therapy, the girl told authorities for the first time that she had been raped.
“(The girl’s) general tenor during the interview was that previously she felt the desire to protect the defendant, felt some degree of responsibility, and felt, to no small degree, under his control,” prosecutors wrote.
As time passed, that changed, and she felt she needed to tell someone the truth.