Lucas Leonard, a 19-year old was killed and his 17-year-old brother Christopher seriously battered during a “counseling session” at the secretive Word of Life Church. Police investigation revealed the boys had been brutally beaten on their genitals, abdomens, backs and thighs by their parents, sister and church members.
Chief Michael Inserra of the police in New Hartford, outside Utica said:
During the counseling session, the session turned physical, over the course of several hours, the brothers were ordered to confess to prior sins and ask for forgiveness. We have not determined what this punishment was for. We know there were fists and feet involved in the punishment.
The victim’s parents, Bruce Leonard(65), and Deborah Leonard(59), and sister, Sarah Ferguson(33), were arrested and charged with first-degree manslaughter. Christopher Leonard remains hospitalized and in serious condition.
Three other members of the church were also arrested and charged with second-degree assault. Inserra said more church members, described by neighbors as a cult, are under investigation.
Meanwhile, seven children — four of them Ferguson’s (a member of the church) have been removed from the church by state child welfare workers.
The investigation was launched after Leonard’s parents showed up at a local hospital Monday with their badly beaten son. Lucas died at the hospital and an autopsy revealed that he had died of blunt-force trauma.
The chief said.
Within hours, a police SWAT team stormed the Leonards’ home in Clayville and the church, where they found his brother on the second floor after several hours of searching.
He wasn’t in hiding but family members weren’t making him available.
Bruce Leonard and his wife, Deborah both pleaded not guilty during their arraignment on monday and were later dispatched to the Oneida County jail after they were unable to raise the $100,000 bail.
The four other suspects:
Ferguson, Joseph Irwin(26) of Chadwicks
David Morey(26) and
Linda Morey(54) both of Utica were each held on $50,000 bail.
The Leonards’ neighbors said the couple homeschooled their kids and subjected them to read the Bible for two hours every day. They also said the children weren’t allowed to have sleepovers and were barred from Halloween trick-or-treating.
Inserra declined to comment on reports that the church is a cult but residents who live nearby told the Syracuse Post-Standard that members would rarely venture out during the daytime and those who did often were men wearing what they described as “long, black trench coats”.
They said they would hear strange chanting coming from the building as late as 3am.
A Post-Standard reporter who ventured into the building Tuesday 12th October, found police tape across two bathrooms labelled “Adam” and “Eve”.
The reporter also said there was a framed message hanging on one wall that read, in part:
We have been commissioned through the written word of God to reach out to those who have not experienced the love of Jesus Christ in their lives. Through the systematic training up of saints.