How Jehovah’s Witnesses and Shunning Contributed to a Triple Murder-Suicide

A couple of months ago, we wrote about Lauren Stuart, the aspiring model who was shunned after leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses and ended up killing her whole family. It was easy to pin blame on the Witnesses at the time, but critics would say that was just low-hanging fruit and that there may have been another, more direct, cause (if not many others).

But more details have emerged about the case and it turns out there’s a very clear link between the Witnesses’ actions and the triple murder-suicide. That connection is worth exploring.

There is no justification for what Stuart did. She organized a complex plan to kill her husband and her two grown children before turning the gun on herself, and that isn’t something you just forgive, but it is something we can try to better understand.

In this case, that involves learning more about the factors that led to the tragedy, including depression, stress, and — of course — the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their controversial practice of “disfellowshipping” former members and separating them from everyone still practicing the faith (in many cases, the only people they’ve ever known).

A family friend of the victims, Joyce Taylor, previously said that their former church was “100%” to blame for the deaths. Now, a new report from the Detroit Free Press shows Taylor was at least partially right.

According to police records and interviews with family, friends and neighbors, Stuart battled many problems, including depression, ostracism from the Jehovah Witness church, and mental scars stemming from alleged sexual abuse as a child.

These factors combined, police believe, led Stuart to cave to despair on a February weekday when she fatally shot her son, daughter and husband — using pillows to suppress the sound — before shooting herself between the eyes…

Police interviewed multiple family members, friends and neighbors who described the Stuarts as a quiet and sometimes “odd” couple who were estranged from their family because of their leaving the Jehovah’s Witness church about 10 years ago.

Multiple family members said that Lauren, who had 11 siblings, long suffered from depression that got worse after she had her children. In recent months, they said she became more religiously preoccupied and went off on rants.

Of course, Lauren’s family — and the Jehovah’s Witnesses in general — have tried to spin the story to fit their narrative. The Witnesses deemed her “Apostasy” (or, more likely, an “apostate”) for speaking out against them and instructed the congregation not to interact with her, but they put the blame squarely on her and her husband.

Despite leaving the faith, religion continued to play an important role in Lauren’s life. In fact, her departure from the Witnesses led her to dive more deeply into her own version of religion, which police say is part of what led her to do what she did. In her suicide note, she wrote, “They will sleep until Christ resurrects them.”

“Lauren’s’ complete immersion into religion appeared to have only further alienated her and her family from friends and other family which may have compounded her already fragile state of mind,” police wrote, noting one of Lauren’s sisters expressed little remorse about the tragedy.

“(The sister) showed a very solemn and somber demeanor when she spoke and stated that she is not sad for Lauren and her family and that when she heard the news of her sister’s actions, she was not surprised in the slightest.”

There were many factors that led to this unfortunate incident, but it would be naïve to ignore that the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their practice of shunning were among them. Forcefully separating people from those they love, all because of a difference of opinion on religion, has no benefit for anyone, even if the Witnesses claim it’s in the outcast’s best interests.

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