A couple in New Hartford, New York are being held on suspicion of beating their 19-year-old son to death during a church family counselling meeting, while other parishioners assaulted the teen’s younger brother.
Bruce Leonard, 65, and Deborah Leonard, 59, allegedly beat their son, Lucas Leonard, inside a ‘sanctuary room’ of the World of Life Church on Sunday. The couple are facing charges of first-degree manslaughter, though they deny any wrongdoing.
Lucas died on Monday morning after family members drove him to hospital and falsely told hospital staff and police he had been shot. During his autopsy, doctors found extensive blunt force trauma to his torso and extremities.
Four other church members have been charged with assault, as police discovered they had also beaten Lucas’ 17-year-old brother Christopher, during the session. The victim’s sister Sarah Ferguson, 33, and churchgoers Linda Morey, 54, David Morey, 26, and Joseph Irwin, 26, have all been arrested on charges of assault in the second-degree.
Chief of the New Hartford Police, Michael Inserra said:
Both brothers were continually subjected to physical punishment over the course of several hours in the hopes that each would confess to prior sins and ask for forgiveness. It was determined that the combination of injuries and the duration of assault contributed to his [Lucas’] death.
The Church is said to be a small community, with only five families – around 35 people – attending it. When asked by reporters, Inserra could not comment on whether the church was being considered as a cult.
Following police investigations, several other children were removed from the church and turned over to child protection services, while additional charges and arrests are pending.