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Harmontown residents “shocked” by child molestation arrests

The Harmontown community is in shock following the arrests of local babysitter Sherry Westmoreland, 60, and her husband John, 46.

John was arrested by the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department on July 3 and charged with one count of child molestation. Following his arrest, another five victims were discovered.

Sherry was arrested on July 9, and charged with six counts of contributing to the delinquency or neglect of a child and failure to make a mandatory report of sex crimes against a minor.

All of the known victims are females between 10 and 12 years old, according to a statement from the sheriff’s department. Sherry Westmoreland operated an unlicensed daycare out of her home for at least eight years, and the victims were children she looked after.

The daycare did not have an official name, Lafayette County Chief Investigator Alan Wilburn said, and was not registered with the state Department of Health.

“In the state of Mississippi, you can have a daycare with up to a certain amount of kids before you have to register with the Health Department,” Wilburn said. “She had under the threshold, so she was not registered as a daycare operator. But she knew something was possibly going on, and like the other charge said, she failed to report it.”

At this time, the sheriff’s department has not confirmed or denied evidence of Sherry Westmoreland abusing children herself.

According to a close family friend of one of the victims, who wished to remain anonymous to protect the child’s identity, many Harmontown residents were in disbelief following the Westmorelands’ arrests.

“When we first heard the story, everybody was like, ‘That’s not true. It couldn’t be him.’ It’s somebody you’d never think of,” they said. “This man used to come in our [business] every morning. My daughter works with me sometimes, and he’d say, ‘Oh she’s so pretty. Her hair’s so long,’ and things like that. The woman that babysat? She used to come to the ball field all the time to watch the kids play.”

Two business owners in Harmontown stated they had signs advertising Sherry’s babysitting service in their windows for years, even referring the service to their friends.

Residents also confirmed that children would become upset when their parents dropped them off at the daycare. While separation anxiety is normal in young children, one resident said the tears now seem more alarming.

“We know that there are some kids who would scream when they were dropped off,” the resident said. “A neighbor down there would tell us they would scream, and you have to question that now. These are our kids, too. We’re all so close – we’ve watched them grow up.”

According to the source, suspicion first arose when a victim posted about the abuse on social media.

Brandi Garrison, a Harmontown resident with a daughter around the same age as the victims, said the girl who initially came forward, as well as those who followed, are to be commended for their bravery.

“The real story is the amazing strength that one child had to come forward and those that followed. I know most of these girls and their families; they are fighting a heartbreaking battle,” Garrison said. “I have seen the pain and tears in these mothers’ eyes. These families need our prayer. They have all shown incredible strength and I am so proud of them.”

The Westmorelands are being held in the Lafayette County Detention Center. John Westmoreland’s bond has been set at $750,000 and Sherry Westmoreland’s bond was set at $500,000 by a Lafayette County Justice Court Judge.