Police report the teen murdered in a church “counseling session” was brutally beaten after expressing his wish to leave the Word of Life Christian Church.
Sunday night Lucas Leonard, 19, was severely beaten by members of the church, including his parents and sister, suffering injuries to the abdomen, genitals, back and thighs that ultimately proved to be fatal.
Lucas’ 17-year-old brother, Christopher, was also beaten during the so-called “counseling session,” and also suffered severe injuries to the abdomen, genitals, back and thighs. Currently Christopher is in the hospital, and is expected to recover.
Police report church members were trying to get the brothers to confess their sins and seek forgiveness. The teens endured hours of being pounded with fists, kicked, and whipped with cords.
On Friday New Hartford Police Chief Michael Inserra said the fatal beating came after Lucas Leonard had “expressed a desire to leave” the secretive upstate New York church.
Inserra told reporters:
The purpose of the counseling session obviously is a big part of this investigation. The victim expressed a desire to leave the church and this is what may have initiated the session. We still have not concluded why the session turned so violent.
One neighbor, James Constantine, confirmed that Lucas had talked about leaving the Word of Life Christian Church, and discussed the possibility of joining the military.
While witnesses confirm Leonard was beaten for wanting to leave the church, at this time it remains unclear why the younger brother Christopher was also beaten.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Chief Michael S. Inserra of the New Hartford Police Department said:
Both brothers were subjected to physical punishment in the hopes that each would confess to prior sins and ask for forgiveness.
Neighbors report the teenage brothers were good kids who were not allowed to do “normal” kid things.
Fitting the pattern of Christian abuse, it should also be noted that Lucas Leonard and his younger brother Christopher were home-schooled, according to Ronald Wheelock, superintendent for Sauquoit Valley Central School District.
Lt. Timothy O’Neill of the New Hartford Police Department reports that Bruce Leonard, 65, and Deborah Leonard, 59, of Clayville, were charged with first-degree manslaughter in the death of their son Lucas.
In addition to the Leonards, four other church members have been charged with assault in the attack that left 17-year-old Christopher Leonard severely injured: Police arrested David Morey, 26; Linda Morey, 54; Sarah Ferguson, 33; and Joseph Irwin, 26.
Despite the abhorrent actions of the church congregation, a former Word of Life Christian Church member, who asked not to be identified, denied the church was a cult, and defended the church’s biblical teachings:
I realize this situation makes it look like this, but if you listen to the teachings, they are accurate to the Bible.
(Portions of this article were previously published here)