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Longtime artistic director of Kansas City’s Coterie Theatre dies following abuse allegations

A man in a blue dress shirt and rimmed glasses looks directly into the camera.
File Photo
The Coterie
Jeff Church, longtime producing artistic director of the Coterie Theatre, died on Saturday.

Accusations that Jeff Church sexually assaulted multiple young men began circulating last week. On Saturday, he resigned from the prominent children’s theater. And on Monday, police confirmed his death.

Jeff Church, longtime producing artistic director of the Coterie Theatre, died on Saturday, days after allegations of widespread sexual abuse became public.

On Monday, the Kansas City Police Department confirmed that officers on Saturday afternoon responded to a “dead body call” and found Church dead at his home.

Police are conducting a death investigation and the medical examiner’s office has not yet released a cause of death.

Multiple accusations of sexual harassment began surfacing on social media last week and were published Friday by the Kansas City Pitch.

Church was accused of sexually assaulting Dashawn Young, a Florida-based actor who used to live in Kansas City. Young detailed an assault in a video posted to Facebook.

Young’s video prompted others to share their accusations against Church, including KKFI 90.1 radio host Mark Manning, who said Church assaulted him in 1991 when Manning was 27. The Pitch named two other actors who accused Church of assault or other unwanted advances.

On Saturday, the Coterie’s board of directors announced on Instagram that it had accepted Church’s resignation and that the board was committed to investigating the allegations.

The Coterie Theatre had largely been silent since Church’s death was confirmed. But on Wednesday, the Coterie’s board of directors released a statement in response to the “terribly tragic series of events” and addressed victims directly: “We see you. We hear you. We support you as you work to heal from unimaginable pain.”

According to the statement, an independent investigation will continue. Claims of misconduct can be submitted via email to coterieinvestigation@gmail.com.

After reports of Church's death began circulating on Facebook Saturday night, Manning posted on his own page in support of the alleged victims.

“To all of the victims of sexual assault, please, please, please do not blame yourself for telling the truth. Please do not punish yourself, or allow ANYONE else to punish you for speaking up,” Manning wrote.  

Church’s death comes one month after the Coterie’s executive director, Joette Pelster died of natural causes. Pelster, who served as executive director since 1993, died Friday, Nov. 25, just a week after she announced her intentions to retire.

KCUR's Laura Spencer contributed to this report.

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a trained listener, call 988.

Crisis Text Line is a texting service for emotional crisis support. To speak with a trained listener, text HELLO to 741741. It is free, available 24/7, and confidential.

The Metro Organization to Counter Sexual Assault has a crisis hotline available 24 hours a day for those who need support. All services are free and confidential. To speak with someone, call 816-531-0233 or 913-642-0233.

Corrected: December 28, 2022 at 8:05 PM CST
An earlier version of this story misspelled Dashawn Young's first name. It has since been corrected.
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