“I don’t believe you, Mrs. Solomon.” — On Gaslighting, Spiritual Abuse and Murder in the South

Saint Dymphna
15 min readJul 28, 2021

Originally published on July 1, 2021

Gracie Solomon, aged just 14 and her mother Angelia Huffines have found themselves in an extremely precarious position — not only, they say, were they abused and betrayed by those they trusted but also robbed of their beloved brother and son Grant and shunned and silenced by the community they used to call home.

While she had told close confidantes about the alleged abuse for as long as she can remember, it was the public allegations Gracie made against her father, Aaron Solomon, that lead many to turn their back on Gracie and her mother. Among those who dismissed their plight were former friends, teachers, church elders, the Williamson County Sheriffs Office, DCS, and several judges.

Few decided to stand with Angelia and Gracie — one of them was Grant Solomon. As Gracie’s big brother and Angelia’s only son he always did his best to protect them. Despite his extremely difficult home life, Grant was by all accounts a formidable young man: intelligent, funny, kind, and loyal. He told Gracie that once he was 18, he would be able to file against their father, that the courts would lend him more credence this time, that he would finally be able to get them both out of their father’s house. Grant Solomon died not even a month after his 18th birthday in an alleged single-vehicle accident. His father, Aaron Solomon, was the only witness.

The Sins Of The Father

According to the affidavit Gracie Solomon filed, Aaron began sexually abusing his daughter when she was only around 6 years old. At that time Gracie recalls her father sexually touching her while bathing her and penetrating her digitally as well as with a bar of soap. According to the affidavit, when Gracie was 11, this abuse escalated to rape. But according to both Angelia’s and Gracie’s testimony, Aaron also abused his family emotionally and physically. They both stated in various documents that Aaron mistreated them, hurt them physically, psychologically, and emotionally, and behaved in manipulative and controlling ways towards them. After Angelia finally sought a divorce from her husband, he also started withholding their mother from the children and, according to the children’s psychiatrist’s statement at one point even told Grant and Gracie that their mother had died.

The parallel realities the Solomons lived in are best exemplified by examining the moment their marriage ended. According to Angelia’s statements to three separate medical professionals who examined her after the fact, Aaron tried to strangle her in a fit of rage, using the electrical cord of a hairdryer. She further stated that the alleged assault took place after she and the children had decided to seek shelter from his abusive outbursts, locking themselves in the master bedroom of the house. Gracie concurred with this in her video as well as in her affidavit, stating that “Aaron has hurt my mom a lot.”

In his version of the story, provided in his statement to the hospital that treated Angelia, Aaron acknowledged that his family had taken to sleeping in the same room together, without him. He explained this with an eye surgery that Gracie had and said that Grant had started sleeping in the master bedroom as well to keep his little sister company. However, he claimed that Angelia had tried to commit suicide by hanging herself with an electrical cord off of the showerhead, that when he tried to save her she got violent, and that the incident was caused by Angelia “shopping too much”.

While no one can say for certain what happened except for Aaron, Gracie, and Angelia, the psychiatrists Angelia talked to unanimously found her to be credible. It should also be noted that although those who suffer from suicidal thoughts do not always act rationally, it would be rather hard to hang yourself from a shower head that’s lower than you are and not exactly load bearing.

The Death Of Grant Solomon

But the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse Gracie and Angelia accuse Aaron of is not the only sin he may have to contend with. Perhaps the most heinous crime anyone could commit is to murder their child. While we will perhaps never know for sure who or what caused Grant Solomon’s death, many unanswered questions surround it.

Several statements made to the guardian ad litem, to Angelia, and the children’s psychiatrist suggest that Aaron’s only interest in Grant was as a baseball player, a status symbol reflecting on his excellence as a parent. The guardian ad litem’s report also states that Grant felt controlled and manipulated by his father, to the point where Aaron would control when his son could go to the bathroom. Additionally, the testimonies submitted by his friends and family to the @freedomforgracie Instagram suggest that he was afraid of his father and that he felt a great responsibility for protecting his little sister and his mother.

Incidents like the one that allegedly took Grant’s life are professionally referred to as single-vehicle rollaways. While proof of any kind is rare in this situation it should be noted that in an analysis of single-vehicle accidents by the NHTSA, only 6 percent of all single-vehicle accidents examined were rollaways that did not involve an obstacle of some kind. These kinds of accidents can be caused by faulty cars, but since Aaron declined any investigation of the car that killed his son, it is unclear if this was the case.

Furthermore, Aaron also declined an autopsy for his son. Under different circumstances, this would be understandable, but according to the hospital records, Grant’s injuries are inconsistent with getting dragged by a truck, showing one blunt force injury to the back of the head as well as a bruise on his lower left side and a bruise to his left cheek. However the chart shows none of the injuries typical of getting dragged; there were no scratches, cuts, or abrasions to his back or legs. While we don’t have any statements suggesting that Aaron regularly physically abused his son, there is ample evidence to suggest that he is prone to uncontrollable fits of rage.

Aaron’s very limited statements as to how the accident occurred are also inconclusive at best. A timeline to visualize the events leading to Grant’s death can be found in the link bin below. As is so often the case when it comes to allegations against Aaron Solomon, Gallatin PD opened and shut the case. When Angie asked for it to be reopened due to the many unresolved questions surrounding the incident and the overwhelming grief of not knowing what (or who) killed her son, Gallatin PD flat-out refused.

Betrayal of Trust

Although so far one might perceive Aaron to be rather unlikeable, he has many friends. Most of those friends occupy positions of power and influence in the realms of church, law enforcement, government, media, education, and non- social work. Perhaps most prominently, Aaron attends the same fundamentalist church as Tennessee governor Bill Lee. While this church, Grace Chapel, has stated in a Cease and Desist issued to writer Shannon Ashley, that proper membership in their church is predicated upon completion of some class or other, Aaron did go to church there for many years. He also sent both of his children to Grace Christian Academy, a separate legal entity that resides on the same campus, shares the same building, subscribes to the same theological values, whose teachers and students also attend Grace Chapel.

Grace Chapel was until recently pastored to by a man named Steve Berger, who on January 17th announced that he was resigning “as part of a three-year plan of stepping down”. He insists this had nothing to do with his attendance of the January 6th capitol insurrection and the ensuing change.org petition for him to resign. In the aforementioned Cease and Desist, Grace Chapel also insisted that Steve Berger and Steve Berger Ministries are entirely separate entities, and legally speaking they probably are. However, as the founding pastor of Grace Chapel and a partner in the founding of Grace Christian Academy, it is clear that the beliefs and teachings of Steve Berger have greatly influenced both of these institutions.

This triune, legally distinct construct of school, church, and pastor all claim to have not known anything about any abuse, which evidence would seem to contradict. Gracie’s mother has released emails and text messages she exchanged with GCA and other sources that testified on the Instagram page concurred that sexualized violence and abuse was at best ignored by the private school and at worst encouraged. Once source claims that headmaster Robbie Mason even bragged about meeting his wife Dabney when he was her basketball coach and she was 15 years old.

What we can say for certain however is that they never reported any abuse, even though Tennessee is a mandatory reporter state. They never protected Gracie or Grant from any abuse either and during one incident in 2018 headmaster Robbie Mason even allegedly forced Gracie into her father’ car despite her begging and pleading with him not to. Now that the allegations are public, Grace Chapel is denying any mishandling of the case, while Grace Christian Academy has not released a public- statement and Steve Berger Ministries is demonizing survivors of assault. Grace Christian Academy does however send out aggressively threatening letters to anyone who speaks about this matter publicly.

Prominent guests at Grace Chapel include the power couple of Jack Johnson, Republican state senator and his wife Judge Deanna Bell Johnson, the judge who signed the order forbidding Angelia Solomon from seeking any legal redress for the abuse she and her family have suffered. Coincidentally, Judge Johnson has made a habit of troubling rulings against victims of abuse and assault, as can be seen in how she treated the victim in the Brentwood Academy case.

In August of 2017, a sixth-grade student was sexually assaulted and raped by several older pupils in the locker room at Brentwood Academy and after the assault dismissed and belittled by the headmaster of the school, Curtis Masters. Judge Johnson ruled that the case had “no merit” and dismissed it with prejudice. According to an article in The Tennessean, Judge Johnson even faced accusations of plagiarism, because her ruling seemed to have been copy- from the defenses brief. Not to be outdone by his wife, Senator Johnson allegedly help cover up the case of a 3 year old child who had been sexually assaulted by a teenage Sunday School teacher at Fellowship Bible Church daycare in Brentwood.

Although he does not worship at Grace Chapel, Judge Philip E. Smith has been criticized for similar attitudes as his colleague. He went viral a few years ago for an outburst of rage from the bench in which he screamed at female attorney Cynthia Cheatham. Later, Judge Smith neither explained nor apologized for the incident, stating to FOX 17 that “I stand by what I said”. It was this same Judge Smith who not only excluded the testimonies of three medical professionals, all of which were in Angelias favor; he also dismissed her claims that Aaron had tried to strangle her, responding, “I don’t believe you. I do believe you tried to commit suicide.” Additionally, several sources have confirmed that Judge Smith is rather friendly with Aaron Solomon’s legal representation, D. Scott Parsley.

Both of these judges have sworn and signed oaths of office, which state that they should rule fairly and impartially. Whether this is what they’re currently doing, however, is unclear.

The church is not Aaron’s only source of supporters though. As a former WSMV news anchor and radio personality, he has what he describes on his LinkedIn page as “good friends and former colleagues” at one of the biggest networks in the area. These pictures show him with Jeremy Finley, the chief of investigative reporting at WSMV and Terry Bulger, WSMV’s “story guy” and human interest reporter. WSMV could not be reached for comment, but their lack of reporting on this story speaks volumes.

And then there’s his best friend, fellow Grace Chapel Attendee, personal friend to Steve Berger and viral sensation in his own right Sam Johnson, who garnered much media attention last year when he was filmed going out of his way to attack and demean a boy wearing a dress to his high school prom.

After Gracie’s allegations emerged, Sam, who both Gracie and Angelia had blocked because of his abusive and manipulative messages towards them, used his dog Govnors Instagram page to chastise them for speaking up. In his message he said that talking about the allegations publicly “brings shame on Jesus name”.

According to his LinkedIn page, Aaron Solomon doesn’t just hobknob with people like David Briley, the one time mayor of Nashville and Davidson County though. As a “Private Wealth Advisor” for Klindt, Cole and Associates, a team working under the Merrill Lynch umbrella, Aaron also congregates professionally with “clients of substantial means”. Who all that does or doesn’t entail remains to be seen, but it should be acknowledged that a job like that comes with significant social capital. Klindt, Cole and Associates could not be reached for comment at this time.

And finally we shouldn’t forget his years of volunteer work with Our Kids TN, lead and founded by Sue Fort White, a non profit organization that provides services to vulnerable child survivors of sexual abuse. Our Kids has many connections to social workers, guardians, CASAs, lawyers and judges — when reached for comment, Sue Fort White said that Aaron Solomon “resigned from the board in 2016” and was merely attending the non profits events as a guest, although there’s evidence to suggest that Aaron started a fundraiser for Our Kids TN as late as 2020. She also said that as a former DCS worker she “trusts in the process” as well as the “policies and procedures” of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services.

Spiritual manipulation

But how could this situation ever even come this far? Why would anyone endure a spouse as abusive as Aaron Solomon? The simple answer is religious and emotional indoctrination.

Angelia Huffines was raised in fundamentalist evangelical Christianity, and as the report by Dr. Reed states, she suffered abuse at the hands of her parents as well. This comes as no surprise, since many fundamentalist churches preach not to “spare the rod” so as not to “spoil the child”.

While the extent of this abuse is uncertain, it’s fair to assume that Angie was raised from birth to adhere to a fundamentalist image of biblical womanhood — to be meek, humble, obedient and to submit herself unto her husband as the church submits herself unto Christ. Angelia’s own father, himself a lifelong evangelical fundamentalist, told his daughter, who was scared for her life and that of his grandchildren that he would pay for a lawyer to lift the restraining order against Aaron — but not one to help her get a divorce. Dr. Murphy, who treated Angelia in hospital after Aaron allegedly tried to strangle her, notes in his report that “patient’s parents also seem to be unreliable sources of information”.

This mindset of constant self depreciation and unworthiness, implanted by abusive pastors who claim to serve god, is the ideal breeding ground for an abusive marriage to a narcissist who thinks he is god, with the victimized spouse caught in the role of the perpetual scape goat.

Grace Chapel and it’s legally distinct founder Steve Berger preach that “the biblical definition of and instructions pertaining to sexual ethics in all circumstances and in the biblical definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman for one lifetime”. Interpretation of the Bible is a contentious issue and that quote could mean anything from condemning adultery to disallowing divorce to legitimizing spousal abuse and marital rape.

On which end of the spectrum the trinity of Berger, Grace Chapel and Grace Christian Academy fall becomes clear when you listen to the sermon Berger has tried to scrub from the internet, his 2018 sermon about the Christine Blasey-Ford hearings. In it he espouses the so called Two Witness Rule, dictating that any allegation of abuse needs to be substantiated by at least 2 witnesses. This same rule has been controversially discussed in other church related sexual abuse cases, like in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and Jehova’s Witnesses, since it allows abusers within the church to continue victimizing children as long as there are no 2 witnesses.

Berger also warns that “there can be no pity! Don’t have pity on the false accuser! […] Don’t allow emotional testimony to supersede the facts of the case! Don’t pity them for… for the degree of self inflicted judgement….” Statistics show that false accusations are exceedingly rare, between 2 and 5 percent of sexual assault allegations are fictitious, but as Gracie’s attorney Alex Little points out, “sexual abuse is one of the hardest crimes to detect, prove and prosecute”, since there usually aren’t any witnesses. Sexual abuse and assault are by their very nature private crimes, not typically the kind of “stranger danger” assaults children were warned about in past decades. It follows then that what Pastor Berger is really saying here is “Don’t have pity with victims.”

More recently, Pastor Steve has streamed a series of sermons entitled “Exposing The Enemy — Securing Our Victory” to his congregation. In it, as well as in the accompanying notes that worshippers can receive as a newsletter, he states emphatically that “it’s a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who persecute you”. One can only wonder at whom this series aims, but it’s release on the 7th of June 2021, less than a month after Gracie published her YouTube video might give the reader a hint.

In the sermons, Berger also directs his congregants to employ so called imprecatory prayers, most commonly understood to function akin to a curse. While he does not mention Gracie or her mother by name, he does say that it is just to pray imprecatory prayers against those who have mocked the church, accused falsely, sown divisiveness and threatened the unity of his congregation — and from Mr. Berger’s point of view that may well be what he thinks Gracie and her mother did.

He further says not to pay attention when “lies [are] seemingly supported by outward circumstances”, to keep “patience, obedience and promise” in his ministry and “guard your heart from bitter, vengeful hatred”, which mirrors the language used by Sam Johnson in the text messages sent from his dogs Instagram page. “It [disclosing the abuse] brings shame on the name of Jesus Christ and on his church to do this out in the open public.” he wrote to the abused and bereaved mother and daughter, further stating that he loved them all but that they had “immense hate built up in [their] hearts.”

This Too Shall Pass

But while Aaron Solomon and Grace Chapel try to sue their way out of this situation, Grace Christian Academy is trying to intimidate the folks who speak out by brute juristic force and Steve Berger and those who adhere to his teachings pray for God to smite their accusers, what is next for Gracie and her mother? For the time being Gracie is safe in foster care, although her alleged abuser still has custody of her. As far as we can tell, she is incredibly strong and determined to not only survive this, but to thrive. In a video posted to the @freedomforgracie Instagram, Gracie can be seen hinting at a smile as she thanks those who have helped spread her message. In the same video she states that while things are still hard for her, she feels hopeful and respected for the first time and she wants to become an advocate when she’s older.

Authors’ note: I’ve chosen to publish this under a pseudonym because Aaron Solomon has already filed a SLAPP suit against his daughter, ex-wife and 27 other defendant and I have no doubt that this article will enrage him, Grace Chapel, Grace Christian Academy, Steven Berger and about a dozen other people with very expensive law degrees.

I have tried to err on the side of neutrality in writing this wherever it was an option to do so without protecting the alleged abuser. Please find attached a list of links to news articles related to this story as well as pertinent documents, videos and pictures.

Do you have information, want to submit a tip or share your own story? Find me on twitter, my DMs are always open.

Links to all sources, files and studies quoted can be found here.

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Saint Dymphna

Writing about religious and political extremism, sexual and spiritual abuse, and true crime. God helps those who help themselves.