As his supporters whimpered softly in the audience, a Catholic priest appeared before a Sacramento judge Friday and was formally charged with seven counts of child molestation.
The Rev. Uriel Ojeda, beloved in the Woodland community for his work there before his move to Redding, stared solemnly ahead as the charges were read.
He did not enter a plea and spoke only to confirm his name and that he knew the identity of his accuser, whose name has been sealed.
Ojeda, 32, is accused of seven lewd and lascivious acts with a teenage girl over a two-year span starting when she was 14 years old in both Sacramento and Shasta counties, according to the Sacramento County district attorney's criminal complaint against Ojeda.
The first three alleged incidents, all in the victim's bedroom in Sacramento County, took place between June 29, 2007 the day Ojeda was ordained in Sacramento and June 30, 2009, the complaint states.
The other four alleged incidents occurred in a swimming pool, a bathroom and a bedroom in Shasta County between July 1, 2009 the day Ojeda began his service in Redding and Aug. 30, 2009.
Ojeda's first assignment was as a parochial vicar for the Holy Rosary Parish in Woodland. The Sacramento Diocese then transferred him to Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Redding, where he worked until he surrendered to authorities Wednesday night. He has been placed on paid administrative leave.
The allegations came to the attention of the diocese the day before, after a relative of the girl contacted a church member, Bishop Jaime Soto told reporters Thursday. The diocese then called Sacramento police and Child Protective Services, Soto said.
After Friday's arraignment, Ojeda's attorney, Jesse Ortiz, asked that people "not make any judgments on this case until all the facts are known."
"Father Ojeda is a good man who has dedicated his life to helping people," Ortiz said outside the courtroom, holding what looked like a Bible.
The attorney said he previously met Ojeda through church activities and said he is representing him because "I feel like I need to help him."
"He was a great priest, and he is a great priest," Ortiz said. "This is obviously very difficult for all of us."
About a dozen supporters, mostly young women, showed up for the hearing. They wept inside and outside the courtroom.
"We just have to be strong," said an emotional 18-year-old Veronica Lopez of Winters. "We've just got to have faith in God. Nobody knows what happened."
Lopez said she met Ojeda when she was young, and he taught her to sing and play guitar. He was her catechism teacher and said Mass at her quinceañera. He taught her that God, and faith, come first.
She showed a reporter a cellphone video of Ojeda singing and playing guitar with a band at a Catholic youth retreat in August. Youths of all ages could be seen jumping, cheering and smiling.
"Whether (the allegations are) true, we have to have respect" for him, she said. "We believe in him."
Erika Vargas, 22, of Woodland said she and her friends drive to Redding every other month or so to visit Ojeda. Every visit, they bring a cake, baked by Vargas' mom. In the summer of 2010, Vargas remembers bringing Ojeda a special cake to celebrate his three-year "birthday" as a priest.
Martha Carrillo, 25, also of Woodland, said she began to cry when she heard of the allegations. Her mother who, through a translator, also praised Ojeda came with her to Friday's hearing.
"I can't even believe it right now," the younger Carrillo said.
Ojeda is scheduled to return to court Tuesday for a bail review hearing. He is being held in lieu of $5 million bail, far beyond what is dictated by the county's bail schedule, his attorney said.