19-year-old Lucas Leonard is dead and his 17- year–old brother Christopher remains in serious condition after a church “counseling session” at the World Life Of Life Christian Church in New Hartford, N.Y. went awry on Monday. Lucas Leonard was taken to a nearby hospital by family members but was pronounced death moments later.
New Hartford Police Chief Michael Inserra said Wednesday that both brothers were subjected to physical torture lasting over a period of several hours “in hopes that each would confess to prior sins and ask for forgiveness.” Inserra says it is still unclear as to what those sins are. Leonard’s death was due to apparent blunt force trauma but both teenagers’ sustained beatings to the abdomen, thighs and genital area.
After police confirmed the beating had taken place at the church, which is also a residence, they stormed in with a swat team. Several children were found there and immediately turned over to child protective services.
Parents of the victims’ father Bruce T. Leonard, 65, and mother Deborah R. Leonard, 59, were charged and are being detained as of Tuesday for first-degree manslaughter. Four others including the victims’ sister Sarah Ferguson, 33, were charged with a second-degree assault, all pleaded not guilty.
Neighbor’s claims both teenagers were not allowed to do “normal” kid stuff. They didn’t have sleepovers and due to the family’s strict religious nature the boys had to read the bible for two hours a day. Another neighbor told Syracuse.com that the church was a “cult.” Whose members sang “strange chants.”
Police have stated that they expect to make further arrests as the details of the story unfold.