Raw Story By Travis Gettys Posted Thurs., May 19, 2016
Prosecutors have been reluctant to call a New York church a cult, but experts say that’s exactly what it is. Members have been charged in the beating death of a teenager.
Bruce and Deborah Leonard (pic above) have been charged, along with four other members of the Word of Life religious sect, in the beating death of their son, 19-year-old Lucas Leonard, and the severe beating of their younger son, 17-year-old Christopher Leonard.
The older teen died in October from injuries suffered to his stomach, genitals, back and thighs after family members dropped him off at a hospital in New Hartford, and the younger boy was treated for similar injuries and survived.
The teens’ parents were charged with first-degree manslaughter in their son’s beating death, and four others were charged with second-degree assault: 26-year-old Joseph Irwin, 26-year-old David J. Morey, 54-year-old Linda R. Morey and 33-year-old Sarah L. Ferguson, who is the victims’ half-sister.
The church’s pastor, Tiffanie Irwin, and her mother, Traci Irwin, were charged in the beatings about a month later.
Prosecutors say the Leonards and other church members brutally beat the brothers in the sanctuary room for hours after they told church leaders of their intention to leave the Word of Life Christian Church.
Investigators said the church’s pastor lied to her followers and claimed the teens had sexually abused their younger siblings and brothers over several years, and church members beat the pair with their fists and electrical cords.
Lucas Leonard died after bleeding out from a cut caused by an electrical cord he was whipped with, and his brother required surgery for his severe injuries.
“When Lucas was brought to hospital, his father told police officers at the scene that his son was a pedophile and child abuser,” said Lt. Timothy O’Neill, of New Hartford police. “It was very accusatory – not the typical reaction of traumatized parents who have lost a child. Typically they are demanding for answers and justice.”
Nathan Ames, a former Word of Life follower, said church leaders are “controlling” and “mentally abusive,” and he said church teachings forge “bitterness and hatred” and pit relatives against one another.
“Most cults are small, family-based groups like this is, with members who’re largely related,” said cult expert Rick Ross.
Former member Gregory Ames, said the church became more focused on money around 1993 after Irwin purchased a former school building, where children were indoctrinated into religious teachings but barely educated — and where Lucas and Christopher Leonard were brutally beaten.