Deadly Oregon faith healing cult claims another victim
Travis Lee Mitchell, 22, and Sarah Elaine Mitchell, 25, were today sentenced to more than six years in prison for failing to get proper medical care for their newborn baby, who died last June.
The couple – members of the deadly Followers of Christ Church in Oregon – pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and first-degree criminal mistreatment.
Investigators said Sarah Mitchell gave birth to twin girls March 5, 2017 at her parents’ home in Oregon City.
One of the babies had breathing complications and died. A church elder contacted the Clackamas County Medical Examiner’s Office, but deputies said nobody called 911.
The medical examiner said the surviving baby needed medical attention and, after contacting law enforcement, the family was persuaded to seek professional medical care for the surviving child.
The medical examiner determined the other child’s death was due to complications of prematurity.
Travis and Sarah Mitchell were each sentenced to six years and eight months in prison, along with three years post-prison supervision. They were also ordered to sign a letter stating:
We should have sought adequate medical care for our children and everyone in the church should always seek adequate medical care for our children.
Sarah Mitchell’s sister Shannon Hickman and her husband Dale Hickman were convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six years in prison in 2011 for the death of their newborn son in a similar case.
According to this report, the Mitchells are the fifth set of parents from the Followers of Christ Church to face criminal charges after failing to secure medical attention for their children in the past nine years.
The district attorney’s office stated:
For far too long, children in this church have been needlessly suffering and dying because their parents, as a condition of their religious beliefs, have refused to seek medical care for their children. And for the past 17½ years, the Clackamas County District Attorney’s Office has been working diligently to hold criminally responsible any parents who fail to provide adequate medical care for their children which causes their death or serious physical injury.
As a sign of the church’s willingness to finally stop the pattern of newborn deaths, the church agreed as part of the plea agreement to post the following statement inside its building:
Everyone in the church should always seek adequate medical care for our children.
The prosecutor stated.
We hope that this office is never again forced to prosecute parents in the Followers of Christ Church for neglecting the medical care of their children. However, we continue to stand ready to do so if the members of that congregation do not heed the call of this family.
Due to the couple’s religious beliefs, Sarah Mitchell received no prenatal care. Without the benefit of an ultrasound, the couple did not know they were having twins or that the children were at risk.
The church, which believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible and shuns modern medicine, is rooted in the 19th-century Pentecostal movement. The branch in Oregon was founded by Sarah Mitchell’s grandfather.
Religion columnist Jonathan Merritt said in 2015:
They believe that God heals, which all Christians believe, but they take it a step further, thinking that God always heals. Most Christians have not interpreted scripture as a sort of universal promise that faith will always lead to healing. But there are some popular movements in America that still hold those views. Even those movements, however, don’t believe you should withhold medicine; they believe medicine is used as a conduit to healing.
In 1998, the Oregonian reviewed the records of the 78 children buried in the Followers of Christ Church cemetery between 1955 to 1998. The newspaper’s analysis concluded 21 of the children could have been saved by modern medicine.
Oregon law initially protected church members from legal consequences related to the deaths. But beginning in 2008, local prosecutors began filing criminal charges against parents.
That year, Raylene and Carl Brent Worthington were charged after their 15-month-old died of pneumonia and a blood infection. The father was eventually convicted of misdemeanor criminal mistreatment.
The death of 16-year-old Neil Beagley from a urinary tract blockage in 2008 resulted in the conviction of his parents Jeff and Marci Beagley of criminally negligent homicide.
In 2011, Rebecca and Timothy Wyland were convicted of criminal mistreatment after their daughter suffered a serious growth on her eye that resulted in permanent damage to her vision.
In the statement released following the Mitchells’ sentencing, Clackamas County District Attorney John S Foote acknowledged his office has pursued the criminal charges against these parents not only to get justice for the victims but also:
To convince the Followers of Christ congregation that they must stop this misconduct.
The Mitchells’ surviving child is in foster care.