A couple of faith-healing Christian parents from Oregon are now facing murder charges after their newborn daughter’s death in March. The parents, 24-year-old Sarah Mitchell and 21-year-old Travis Mitchell, are members of the Followers of Christ religious sect. The group, which is somewhat notorious in the Oregon area, believes that medical care violates scriptural teachings, and utilizes prayer and holy anointing oil rather than doctors and medication.
Sarah Mitchell reportedly gave birth to premature twin girls on March 5. The labor and delivery didn’t take place in a hospital or medical facility, but rather (and in accordance with her faith-healing Christian beliefs), in her parents’ Oregon City home. It is unknown precisely how premature the babies were at the time of their birth, as Mitchell had had no prenatal care during her pregnancy. However, as KATU 2 reports, it’s believed that the faith-healing Christian mom may have delivered as much as two full months prematurely.
Investigators say that one of the babies, Gennifer, died within hours of the birth, after apparently having significant struggles with her breathing. State Medical Examiner Dr. Karen Gunson, who performed Gennifer’s autopsy, says that the infant’s cause of death was directly related to her prematurity and under-developed lungs. The baby’s cause of death was determined to be “natural.”
The condition of the faith-healing parents’ second twin daughter has not been made public.
According to Dr. Gunson, it is unknown whether or not Gennifer Mitchell would have survived if she had received professional medical care, as opposed to faith-healing, immediately after her birth. Reportedly, several midwives, family members, and members of the Followers of Christ faith-healing sect were present during the baby’s birth and short life. None attempted to call 911 or get medical care for the infant, despite the fact that she was obviously struggling to breathe.
After Gennifer Mitchell finally succumbed to the fatal complications of her prematurity, faith-healing church elder Carl Hansen reportedly called for a medical examiner to handle her remains.
On Monday, exactly three months after their premature daughter’s untimely death, Sarah and Travis Mitchell were arrested and charged with murder and two counts each of criminal mistreatment in Clackamas County. According to the Clackamas County Jail inmate roster, bail amounts have not been set for either of the Mitchells.
Charges against the parents involved in the faith-healing Followers of Christ Christian sect are far from unusual. It has been reported that at least four other sets of parents belonging to the church have been arrested and charged in Oregon City alone for relying on faith-healing rather than medicine to treat their kids.
According to Suzi Shumaker, a former member of the faith-healing sect, church doctrine prohibits members from putting their faith in doctors rather than in Christ.
Ironically and tragically, this isn’t the first time that Sarah Mitchell has been intimately involved with the local law enforcement regarding a faith-healing related death in her family. As KOIN 6 reported, Sarah testified against her sister, Shannon Hickman, and her husband back in 2011. The reason? Shannon Hickman is a member of the same faith-healing Christian sect, and she too had a child die due to lack of proper medical treatment. Shannon Hickman was convicted of manslaughter in that case, and currently remains incarcerated.
Sarah Mitchell is reportedly a direct descendant of the Followers of Christ minister who brought the faith-healing church from Idaho to Oregon, Walter White.
Bringing the faith-healing sect to Oregon from Idaho may be causing some serious legal trouble for the congregation, however. While faith-healing remains legal in Idaho (despite dozens of child deaths and outcry from law enforcement, ex-church members and medical professionals), Oregon has recently changed the laws regarding the practice within its borders. The state can now prosecute faith-healing parents if their children become injured or die as a result of being denied medical care, and those parents cannot use their religious beliefs as a legal defense.
[Featured Image by Clackamas County Jail]