"On Sunday night, an ultra-secretive New York church turned into a living hell…"
We have been following the awful story that is emerging from a church in upstate New York, and we are absolutely horrified! Yesterday we received an e-mail from a new reader encouraging us to cover it in a post, and we are honoring that request. In case you missed the news coverage, here is an overview of what occurred according to The Daily Beast:
On Sunday night, an ultra-secretive New York church turned into a living hell. Two teenage brothers were brutally beaten—one of them to death—by their own family members and fellow church-goers who wanted them to “confess” to their sins, authorities say.
Police charged the boys’ parents with manslaughter and four other participants with assault in the chilling incident that killed Lucas Leonard, 19, and left his 17-year-old brother, Christopher Leonard, in serious condition.
The New York Daily News filed this shocking report. (Trigger alert) See video in the article.
As the authorities began to investigate this teen's death, it looks like he wanted to leave the fellowship (and understandably so!) A New York Times article stated that church members beat the teenager over a period of ten hours, beginning around 9 p.m. Sunday and ending around 7 a.m. Monday. A folded over electrical cord appears to have been used to punish the deceased teen and his brother. “What started as some mild flogging spun out of control into something much more violent,” states the NYT piece. Can you imagine the horror that took place?
According to the same NYT article:
A police spokesman said counseling sessions like the one that preceded Lucas Leonard’s death were a routine practice at Word of Life Christian Church, in the town of New Hartford, N.Y., and were meant to deal with questions about adherents’ spiritual standing. But the spokesman said investigators had no indication that the sessions had led to beatings before.
However, the parents of the deceased teenager appear to be misleading the authorities about their son, as this excerpt indicates:
Defense lawyers for the teenagers’ parents, Bruce T. Leonard, 65, and Deborah Leonard, 59, offered a sharply different account of the meeting, describing it as a family gathering to discuss the teenagers’ behavior toward relatives and church members. A lawyer for Ms. Leonard, Devin Garramone, said, “It had something to do with the boys maybe touching some of the other children in the church.”
But the police spokesman, Lt. Timothy O’Neill of the New Hartford Police Department, said the Oneida County Child Advocacy Center had thoroughly investigated suggestions of sexual abuse by the teenagers and deemed them “completely unfounded.” The advocacy center conducted interviews and medical examinations, Lieutenant O’Neill said, adding that “there’s been no evidence whatsoever to suggest there was any molestation committed by either of these young men.”
Interviews with investigators and defense lawyers on Thursday yielded a portrait of a controlling, meddlesome church whose members sought to handle any problems internally.
The TWW reader who notified us highlighted these statements from another NYT article:
“Don’t call it a church,” said Connie Toukatly, 76, who lives across the street. “Because a church is a place that’s open and welcomes people. This did not do that.”
The Rev. Abraham L. Esper, the pastor at the St. Patrick’s-St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church next door, said he periodically heard church members playing drums or saw them doing work on the yard or roof, often with children in tow. He said dogs barked at all hours. “This is not of God,” he said of the activities next door. “If this was of God, there would be growth. Not destruction.”
“This was a way of life,” he said. “Their church life, if you can call it that, was the center of their world.” Lucas and Christopher were home-schooled, said Ron Wheelock, the superintendent of Sauquoit Valley Central School.
We will continue to investigate Lucas Leonard's tragic death; however, in the meantime, here are some things to ponder…
– Our faith enjoys much power in our society and protection under the Constitution. What responsibilities do we have to make sure that children are not hidden and killed in the church down the street? Were other children in this church hidden from authorities, denied an education and perhaps medical care?
– Is speaking negatively about the pastor / church always considered slander?
– How about shunning? Should pastors be able to demand that church members shun others?
– Is this a church or a cult?
No doubt our astute TWW readers have questions / observations of their own. Feel free to share them in the comment section.
There will be much more to discuss about this so-called church as investigators get to the bottom of what actually happened to Lucas Leonard. May he finally rest in peace…