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Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, whose large, conservative family is featured on the popular reality television show "19 Kids and Counting," said they "felt like failures" when their eldest son admitted to sexually molesting young girls over a decade ago.
The Duggars told Fox News Channel’s "The Kelly File" host Megyn Kelly that their son, Josh Duggar, inappropriately touched four of their daughters and another girl who was not a member of the family in a series of incidents that began in 2002, when he was 14.
"I think as parents, we felt, we’re failures," Michelle Duggar said. "Here we’ve tried to raise our kids to do what’s right, to know what’s right and yet, one of our children made some really bad choices. I think as a parent, we were just, we were devastated."
Josh Duggar, now a 27-year-old father of three, was never arrested or charged. The interview, which aired Wednesday, was the couple’s first since details of a 2006 police investigation involving the molestation was reported in May by In Touch Weekly.
Television network TLC pulled all episodes of "19 Kids and Counting" a day after the police reports were posted online by the magazine. Josh Duggar apologized and said "as a young teenager I acted inexcusably" and resigned from his position at Family Research Council, a Washington, D.C-based Christian lobbying group.
Jim Bob Duggar said his son first confessed to the inappropriate touching on two occasions in 2002, and that the teen said it occurred when the girls were asleep. Josh confessed again in 2003, when the child involved was very young. After that, the family sent Josh to a Christian program in Little Rock that emphasized physical work and mentoring.
"It was after that third time he came to us, is where we really felt like 'you know what? We have done everything we can as parents to handle this in-house. We need to get help,'" he said.
Asked why the police weren’t called right away, Duggar said the family wanted to handle the matter themselves, that they watched the teen and put in place safeguards to protect the girls, and took comfort in the fact that the boy came forward with the confessions on his own.
After the treatment, "he went and asked God to forgive him, he went back and asked those that he had offended to forgive him," Duggar said. "We felt like the last jurisdiction of who he needed to make things right with was the law."
Police launched an investigation in 2006, after an email sent to the Oprah Winfrey show making the allegations was sent to police, according to the Springdale, Arkansas, police reports. By the time that report was made, the statute of limitations had passed.
Duggar denied that the family tried to conceal anything from police. He said he brought Josh to an Arkansas State Police officer after he returned from Little Rock, and he said his son "told everything," but no criminal investigation was launched. Michelle Duggar said all her children have received professional counseling.
The couple said they don’t know if "19 Kids and Counting" will resume. Some sponsors, including General Mills, have pulled advertising from future airings of the show.
The couple criticized the release of the police reports to In Touch, and said they are considering a lawsuit. After the magazine published the police reports, which the publication said it obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, a judge ordered the records destroyed at the request of one of the alleged victims.
"They’ve been victimized more by what has happened in these last couple weeks than they were 12 years ago," Michelle Duggar said of her daughters, referring to the recent publicity of the case, and claiming the girls in some cases weren't initially aware anything occurred until they were told.
"In our hearts before God, we haven't been keeping secrets. We have been protecting those that honestly should be protected," she said.