According to police on Wednesday two teenage brothers were brutally beaten in church, one of them fatally in an effort by their parents, sister and other members of the congregation to force them to confess their sins and seek forgiveness. Police Chief Michael Inserra said investigators are still investigating what the supposed sins were.
Inserra said at the Word of Life Church on Sunday, 19 year old Lucas and 17 year old Christopher Leonard were pounded with fists when a “counseling session” meant to explore their spiritual state turned violent. Authorities said they were then beaten in the abdomen, genitals, back and thighs.
As a result Lucas died and his brother was hospitalized in serious condition. Six church members including the brothers’ parents and sister have been arrested in the matter.
As for the duration of the punishment Inserra said “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.” The parents, Bruce and Deborah Leonard, were charged with manslaughter in Lucas’ death.
Four other adults were charged with assault in the younger brother’s beating, including the victim’s sister 3 year old Sarah Ferguson. All charged have pleaded not guilty.
The church where the tragic incident occurred is a former elementary school where a Christian congregation has worshipped for as many as 30 years. Neighbors in the mill town of 22,000 people about 50 miles east of Syracuse made it clear they were always suspicious of the congregation’s secretive ways
Eva Monaghan, who lives around the corner from the church said “I’m really afraid. In my heart I don’t think this is the first incident. Over all the years, I can’t imagine this is the first thing. Maybe nothing as bad. Around town, it’s considered a cult.”
According to police more arrests are expected as the investigation continues. The investigation started around 12:30 p.m. Monday when family members brought Lucas Leonard to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Police entered the church and several children were turned over to child welfare authorities.
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