Prayer Ready, a girl with Down syndrome, choked to death on a piece of meat in Gloriavale Christian Community in New Zealand, the NZ Herald is reporting. The 14-year-old girl had been kept in an isolation room to stop what the reclusive Christian community described as an “infectious and dangerous” disease from spreading. The Christian community had kept Prayer Ready’s death a secret. Fairfax Media had uncovered the story and challenged a suppressing order, prompting Gloriavale to come out to the open.
The 14-year-old girl was in an isolation room with door handles that had been disabled to stop people from getting in or out. The tragedy has led the Christian group to discontinue the practice of removing pins out of isolation room door handles. They have also initiated a training seminar where people are taught how to use a pair of forceps in case of an emergency.
Prayer Ready was in the isolation room with her mother, Sharon Ready, and Stephen Ben-Caanan and his four other children. In a police statement, Sharon said she noticed her daughter was eating the beef schnitzel on her plate too fast. She said when Prayer started choking, she took her to a bathroom.
“I realized she was choking and she was still standing and conscious. I wanted to do the Heimlich. I called out to Stephen who tried doing it, but it didn’t work. Stephen then went to go and get some help.”
Ben Caanan had to crawl out of a window because the main doors were inaccessible. A number of people returned to the room, including Prayer Ready’s father Clem and her brother, David. She was already unconscious and later died.
Sharon, who described Prayer as a “happy child who had a happy life,” said her daughter had a history of choking on food, but that medical professionals had never said it would be life-threatening. She added that Prayer Ready had always recovered from all incidents in the past.
Coroner Elliot said he did not think the inability of people to enter or get outside the room quickly contributed to the heartbreaking incident. According to him, Ben Caanan got help quickly by clambering out of the window because there was ledge down below that doubled as a step to the ground. Elliot arrived at the conclusion after visiting the isolation room.
“I am satisfied that it was possible for people to exit and enter the room via the window quickly.”
The coroner ceded to the Gloriavale Christian community’s inquest for a temporary suppression of the death last year. This prevented any report on Prayer’s death. An application to a permanent suppression was disregarded this month, which contributed to the story coming out.
Trusty Disciple, a former member of the reclusive community, said people had complained about the dismantled door handles because it stopped them from getting in and out of the isolation room quickly, but said it was a necessary evil.
“It’s to prevent children from coming that way, knocking on the doors and not realizing anyone is there and coming in and having contact with the person who is sick.”
However, Ruth Green and Polly Withington, aunts to Prayer Ready, who both live in the outside world, revealed that community leaders had ignored concerns over the dismantled door handles by members. Green said there was a blind culture of obedience to leadership at Gloriavale, which was largely responsible for the death of her niece.
“Leaders need to stand up and be accountable for the processes they’ve put around what they do with sick children; they’re supposed to be the protectors of children.”
The Gloraivale commune has over 500 residents and was founded by Neville Cooper. Cooper, an Australian evangelist who now goes by the name Hopeful Christian, established the cult-like church group after clashing with church leaders in Australia and New Zealand. In 1995, he spent a year in prison for sex abuse.
Residents of the community wear blue uniforms. The men wear dark blue pants and light blue sleeved shirts with neckties while women wear long blue dresses. The community chooses to live away from the rest of the “contaminated world” and do not watch television or use cell phones.
Dove Love, a 22-year-old kitchen manager who got married to 17-year-old laborer Watchful Steadfast, had no idea that she was getting married until hours before it happened. Once vows are exchanged in Gloriavale, a woman must swear to submit to man and the man must swear to be a leader. They are then ushered into a consummation room where they have sex.
[Photo by Matthew Mead/AP Images]