A teen is dead and another remains hospitalized in serious condition after a church “counseling session” used physical force in a bid to make the boys confess their past sins and ask for forgiveness. The two brothers, 19-year-old Lucas Leonard and 17-year-old Christopher Leonard, were forced to attend the violent counseling session in which the teens were told to confess their sins or face physical retribution by parishioners and their own parents. The teens parents have been charged with first-degree manslaughter, while the other participating parishioners were charged with second-degree assault.
Word of Life church, New Hartford, NY, site of deadly attack on 19 yo man. Update @ 1 pm. Six in custody inc parents pic.twitter.com/L18saX5vp5
— Jesse McKinley (@jessemckinley) October 14, 2015
The Washington Post reports that Word of Life Church near New Hartford, New York, is a place of mystery. The church has been called a “cult” by locals, with many noting the “weird vibe” they get from the area. Neighbors to the Word of Life Church claim that there is often chanting late into the night coming from the building, and that the men in the church wear long, black robes. Others note that there is the constant sound of dark barking coming from the building, as it is believed the church breeds dogs on the premises. One neighbor, Julie Howard, says that the “cult” church has been going on in the area for about 30 years.
“There’s always been weird things going on. You always hear dogs, they’re breeding dogs. The cult thing over here has been going on for a while — I guess around 30 years. It’s their own religion everybody stays in their own religion. It’s like one big happy family of about 30 of them.”
Despite all of the weird claims, the police responded to the Word of Life Church for a more sinister reason on Sunday evening. Following the church service, the parents of the two teens, 65-year-old Bruce Leonard and 59-year-old Deborah Leonard, forced their two teen boys to sit through a “counseling session” at the church with other parishioners. The session was designed to make the boys “confess to prior sins and ask for forgiveness.” However, the session turned deadly when the parents and parishioners began physically beating the boys. After hours of the physical torment that lasted until Monday afternoon, the teen’s parents realized that Lucas was no longer breathing. His parents then drove him to the local hospital, where his injuries were so severe that the trauma team initially thought he was suffering from a gunshot wound. Police were called to the hospital, and a police team swarmed the church. Inside, the police found badly injured Christopher, who was then transported to the hospital for treatment.
— Observer-Dispatch (@uticaOD) October 13, 2015
Lucus was pronounced dead on Monday at the hospital from blunt force trauma, while his brother, Christopher, is said to be in critical condition. Meanwhile, police say they still have not determined what “sins” the boys had committed that the family was attempting to have them confess. However, the teen’s parents and the parishioners who participated in the beating are under arrest.
New Hartford Police will be holding a conference to talk about what happened inside the Word of Life Church pic.twitter.com/9fhK0AvN4a
— Sarahbeth Ackerman (@SarahbethCNY) October 14, 2015
The Syracuse Post-Standard reports that police would not release a suspected motive for the attack, and noted that the church had not caused trouble in the area in the past. This is the first incident involving the church. Police have currently arrested six assailants, but claim that more arrests will be made in the coming days.
[Image Credit: Mugshots]