World

Family counselling turns deadly

Teenager is allegedly beaten to death and brother seriously injured during a session meant to lift their 'spiritual state'

It was supposed to be a family counselling session in a secretive Christian church at Chadwicks in New York state.

The parents counselled two of their sons inside the "sanctuary room" of the Word of Life Church.

But the counselling turned horrifically violent and the older son, Lucas, 19, died on Monday after being allegedly beaten for hours, Reuters reported.

His brother, Christopher, 17, was also seriously injured in the beating and has been hospitalised. His condition is said to be serious.

The New York Times reported the authorities as saying that the brothers were savagely beaten by at least a half dozen people, including their parents and older half sister.

Their parents, Bruce Leonard, 65, and Deborah Leonard, 59, were charged on Tuesday with first-degree manslaughter. They pleaded not guilty.

They were being held in lieu of US$100,000 (S$120,000) bail each.

Ms Sarah Ferguson, 33, the victims' sister, and fellow church members Linda Morey, 54, David Morey, 26, and Joseph Irwin, 26, were arrested on charges of assault in the second degree.

They were being held in lieu of US$50,000 bond each.

The counselling session, which started after regular services on Sunday night, aimed to boost Lucas' and Christpher's "spiritual state", New Hartford Police Chief Michael Inserra said.

"During the counselling session... the session turned physical," New York Post quoted him as saying.

THE PARENTS: Bruce and Deborah Leonard were charged with manslaughter in the death of their 19-year-old son after allegedly beating him for hours during a family counselling session inside the "sanctuary room" of a secretive Christian church in the state of New York. PHOTO: REUTERS

PUNISHMENT

"Both brothers were continually subjected to physical punishment over the course of several hours, in the hope that each would confess to prior sins and ask for forgiveness."

Authorities declined to reveal what sins the victims were accused of committing by their attackers.

Family members drove Lucas to hospital and falsely told doctors that the teenager had suffered a gunshot wound, police said.

But his injuries were consistent with blunt force trauma to his body, police said.

Through interviews with church members, police said they learnt that Christopher had also been severely beaten during the session.

Officers could not find him at first and he was eventually tracked down on the second storey of the church.

"He wasn't in hiding but he wasn't making himself available and family members were not telling us where he was," Mr Inserra said.

The sessions are typically led by a pastor or other church members, the police chief said. After the incident, several children were removed from the church site and turned over to child protection services.

Residents who live beside the church told New York Post that Word of Life members are secretive and the group is close-knit.

Ms Eva Monaghan, who lives near the church, claimed: "In my heart, I don't think this is the first incident."

A neighbour of the brothers told CBS News that the boys had not been allowed to do "normal" kid things, like having sleepovers.

Ms Tara Litz, who lived next to the church for 10 years, said: "We always joked around and said they were a cult, which now we're believing.

"It's a gated community - they all go in together, the gates close."

united statesmanslaughterUncategorisedbeatingChurch