Investigators believe suspect used food to control children held in servitude at fish market, warrants say

John McCollum

GODWIN, N.C. (WNCN) — Investigators say children assigned to work at John C. McCollum’s empire of fish markets and mobile grills would be deprived of food, arrest warrants show.

The warrants provide a first glimpse at details of eight charges that McCollum is facing: six counts of holding a child in involuntary servitude and two counts of felony conspiracy.

McCollum “would not let the victim … eat if he did not work,” authorities assert according to one warrant. Another victim was forced to work “by withholding food and/or the threat of physical abuse,” reads an allegation in one warrant.

According to the warrants, investigators believe McCollum told a different victim, “If you don’t get to that fish market, I won’t be able to feed you. How do you expect me to do this for you if you don’t go there?”

EARLIER: Investigation into members of Cumberland County religious group accused of holding children in servitude continues

Another accusation in the warrants contains this statement: “The victim … did not have access to food. His food was lock(ed) away, and he did not have a key. Furthermore, the defendant J. McCollum took custody of (the victim’s) infant child because ‘he was not of this world.'”

Donna Carter-Henry says she was homeless when she talked to someone who she thought was a church member who could help.

“I used to be Apostolic, and she was dressed like an Apostolic people so I just asked her, do you have a church that actually helps people?” said Carter-Henry.

She ended up at McCollum’s ranch, that’s when she says things took a strange turn.

“Was is like a cult?” asked CBS North Carolina’s Sheena Elzie.

“It seemed to be because they all called him ‘Daddy’ and I thought that was very strange, but I just needed a place to live,” said Carter-Henry.

Carter-Henry described it like a polygamist ranch, and the women calling John McCollum daddy, she says were keeping secrets and trying to keep her and the kids there quiet too.

“I wanted to check on my own children, and they did not wanna let me, they didn’t want me to call, they didn’t want to let me used the phone,” said Carter-Henry.

McCollum is one of 10 people who’s facing charges after authorities began investigating an “alternative religious group” based at a property near Godwin known as McCollum Ranch.

So far, eight of the 10 have been arrested.

McCollum, Cornelia McDonald, Brenda Hall and Pamela Puga Luna were all already in custody.

On Friday, Irish Williams, Kassia Lynn Rogers, Shirnitka and Shirley McNatt surrendered to authorities.

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