Two New York parents are accused of literally trying to beat the word of God into their two sons. Unfortunately, in the case of one of the young men, the violence-based testimony worked too well, and one of Deborah and Bruce Leonard’s children got to meet Jesus well before his time.
According to New Hartford police, the parents and other adult members of the congregation had been trying to force the Leonards’ 19 and 17-year-old sons to confess their sins and beg God for forgiveness when the beatings became too much for their offspring.
“Both brothers were subjected to physical punishment over the course of several hours, in hopes that each would confess to prior sins and ask for forgiveness,” Police Chief Michael Inserra explained. The nature of the “sins” the Leonards were hoping to beat out of their children is unclear, but Inserra says that more arrests are expected.
19-year-old Lucas Leonard died Monday after he was dropped off by family members at Mohawk Valley Health System’s St. Luke’s campus “from injuries to his stomach, genitals, back and thighs.” His brother Christopher was hospitalized with similar injuries. The New York Times reports that the beatings occurred during a counseling session, where church members could “discuss their spiritual state.” The teens were beaten for hours, according to the Times.
The good, Christian parents have been charged with first-degree manslaughter, with four other members of the cult-like Word of Life Church facing charges of second-degree assault. “We’re not alleging they intended to kill their son,” Oneida County district attorney Scott D. McNamara said at a news conference. “We’re just alleging they were trying to seriously hurt their son, and ultimately he died from his injuries.”
According to members of the community, the church was more of a cult than anything else.
“Don’t call it a church,” said a neighbor who lives across the street from the church. “Because a church is a place that’s open and welcomes people. This did not do that.”
“I’m really afraid. In my heart I don’t think this is the first incident,” another nearby resident said of the church. “Over all the years, I can’t imagine this is the first thing. Maybe nothing as bad. Around town, it’s considered a cult.”
“When they first took over the building, they would post Mass schedules so people knew when there were services,” another neighbor told the Utica Observer Dispatch. “Now, it’s not like just anyone could go to church there…It’s kind of been the running joke that there’s a cult there.”
“The cult thing over here has been going on for a while, I guess around 30 years,” another resident told WKTV. “It’s their own religion everybody stays in their own religion. It’s like one big happy family of about 30 of them.”
According to police, there are about 40-50 members of Word of Life, a converted three-story schoolhouse. Members rarely leave, except to perform odd jobs around the neighborhood and hold rummage sales on the front lawn. Neighbors say that some children are educated in the church.
Watch a report on the arrests, below:[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1AqVuHJsmR8?rel=0&controls=0&showinfo=0]
Featured image via video screenshot