Fatal church beating: more facts emerge
Lucas Leonard, 19, the NY man who was beaten to death at the Word of Life Church, was being subjected to a ‘family counseling session’ along with his younger brother, Christopher, 17.
Their parents, Bruce Leonard, 65, and Deborah Leonard, 59, above, have been charged with manslaughter.
In addition, four of the couple’s fellow parishioners were charged with assaulting the teenager’s younger brother on Sunday at the church in Chadwicks, New York, about 50 miles (80 km) east of Syracuse.
Michael Inserra, chief of the New Hartford Police, was reported here as saying:
Both brothers were continually subjected to physical punishment over the course of several hours in the hopes that each would confess to prior sins and ask for forgiveness.
According to this report, it is not clear what those sins were, but for several hours, from Sunday into Monday morning, punches and kicks landed on the brothers’ stomachs, genitals, backs and thighs, as the so-called counseling session turned into a case of manslaughter and assault.
Scott D McNamara, the Oneida County district attorney, said at a news conference.
We’re not alleging they intended to kill their son. We’re just alleging they were trying to seriously hurt their son, and ultimately he died from those injuries.
By all accounts the creepy Word of Life Christian Church operated as a secretive cult. The community that surrounded the church regarded it with trepidation, trading stories of odd behavior and awkward interactions.
But when the news of the attack emerged on Tuesday, the reality of life within those walls was much darker than many could have imagined.
Said Connie Toukatly, 76, who lives across the street:
Everybody in the whole town always said there’s something strange going on there; everybody felt that way. But it’s so sad that it came to this point.
Added Lynn Laventure, 52, whose parents live across the street:
Kids used to ride by on bikes in the summer and yell: ‘Don’t go in! You’ll never come out!’ It’s always been a mystery.
There were other oddities: there were fires on the roof, and the sounds of drums and chanting from inside. Dogs were heard barking at all hours, both inside and out, and the view in through many windows of the church was blocked.
At the front door of Word of Life, several Bible verses were posted, including one from the book of I John:
God is Light, in Him is no darkness at all.
The Leonards were apparently longtime members of the church, part of what Lt Timothy O’Neill of the New Hartford Police Department called “an immersive religious environment”.
This was a way of life. Their church life, if you can call it that, was the center of their world.
The authorities believed the church had 40 to 50 members, with some living at the church, which sits along a busy road adjacent to a Catholic church.
The Rev Abraham L Esper, the pastor at St Patrick’s-St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church next door, rejected the assertion that the Word of Life was a “real” church.
This is not of God. If this was of God, there would be growth. Not destruction.