Back in June, someone posted a warning on Topix.com: “Stay far far away…” The warning pertained to the Word Of Life Church in Chadwicks, New York.
On Wednesday, USA Today reported that after an overnight church counseling with the Word of Life, two brothers turned up with severe injuries on the lower abdomen, private areas, buttocks, back and shoulders. One of them, Lucas Leonard, 19, is now dead and an autopsy is already underway. His brother, Christopher Leonard, 17, remains in serious condition at a New York hospital. It is revealed that the supposed church counseling included beating the two brothers to make them confess their sins.
Most who live in the same community with the church said they initially thought the property was abandoned. However, Lt. Timothy O’Neill of the New Hartford, N.Y., Police Department told USA Today that families are actually living inside. Found inside the church were the brothers’ half sister, Sarah Ferguson, who also took part in the overnight session, as well church members Linda Morey and seven children.
The brothers’ parents, Bruce Leonard, 65, and Deborah Leonard, 59 were arrested and charged with first-degree manslaughter. Ferguson, and church members Joseph Irwin, David Morey and Linda Morey.
According to a related report from CNN, the Word of Life was established in 1984. Its members include five families and 35 other members, including children. A former church member, who has spoken with CNN anonymously, said the church is a “makeshift family.”
“We weren’t originally isolated from the community,” the member said. However, the church runners decided to put up hedges and that was when conflict with the neighbors begun. The ex-member denied suspicions that the church is a cult.
“I realize this situation makes it look like this. but if you listen to the teachings, they are accurate to the Bible,” she told CNN.
Rev. Abraham Esper of the St. Patrick’s-St. Anthony’s Church said the Word of Life is not a “mainline church.” And by that he meant the church was very closed in. There is even a locked gate at the parking lot behind the church.
Neighbor Lynn Laventure told CNN that the church member kept to themselves. “We would have never in a million years guessed anything was … wrong,” she told CNN.