Teen was beaten to death by his parents inside church ‘after he was accused of practicing witchcraft and tried to leave’.
19-year-old, Lucas Leonard from Chadwicks, New York died from injuries sustained during an hour-long counselling session at his church.
Both he and his brother (who survived, albeit with severe injuries), were repeatedly beaten by parishioners during the session, and among those arrested in connection with the beating were Leonard’s own parents and his sister.
The death drew national attention and catalyzed renewed discussion of dysfunctional religious groups and cults.
The church, Word of Life Christian Church, reportedly started out as an ordinary Pentecostal church before becoming more cult-like after pastor Jerry Irwin retook control of it and began shaming and controlling other members.
One of Irwin’s relatives accused Lucas of having dabbled in witchcraft and voodoo, but these accusations were rebuffed by police.
Authorities have instead said that the meeting was prompted by Lucas’ desire to leave the church.
Animals subsequently rescued from Lucas’ parents’ house were found to have been in living in neglect, and the house was foul-smelling and full of garbage.
An autopsy showed that Lucas had suffered blows to the genital area.
Neighbours described the church as isolated from the local community and as a cult, with one saying that “church members used to build fires on the roofs, and there was chanting and weird rituals”, and that dogs howled all night inside the church but were never seen outside.
Cult expert Rick Ross said “This is an old-school group…It’s typical in many ways.
They’re very isolated, they’ve cocooned their members and homeschooled the children.
Besides a website to sell pedigree yorkies, they were very isolated.
That’s a common characteristic in cults to make sure they are the only ones influencing the member’s judgements.”
Following the incident, the pastor of the unrelated Word Of Life Assembly of God Church in Baldwinsville, New York began receiving threatening phone calls from people confusing his church with the one in Chadwicks.
The townspeople held a prayer vigil outside the church on October 20.
The organizers of the prayer vigil also called for Word of Life to be shut down.
Lucas’s surviving brother, Christopher Leonard, began testifying in court starting on October 21.
He said that during the beating, he was punched in the stomach, then struck in the genitals and other parts of his body using a four-foot “whip” made from an electrical cord.
Later on, he was forced to wear ear plugs, ear muffs and to sit in a corner.
He said the church’s pastor, Tiffany Irwin, was responsible for organizing the counselling session during which the beating took place.
When he saw his brother lying motionless on the floor, Christopher attempted to give him CPR, but stopped once he realized Lucas was dead.
On October 23, a family court hearing was held to determine who should have custody of the Leonards’ seven other underage children, aged between 2 and 15.