A teen was allegedly beaten to death by his parents inside of a secretive New Hartford, New York, church after he was accused of practicing witchcraft.
On the night of Oct. 11, after a day-long church service, 19-year-old Lucas Leonard was beaten to death by a group of congregants at the World of Life Christian Church, the New York Times reported.
Daniel Irwin, a World of Life deacon and an alleged witness to the beating, told investigators what happened that night. His statement to police has not yet been released, but the New York Times has reportedly reviewed the document.
According to Irwin's statement, the incident started when a female congregant said someone in the service was practicing witchcraft. Leonard reportedly admitted that he was the one practicing witchcraft, adding that he wanted the church elders to die.
Leonard was then beaten by members of the secretive church, including his parents and his half sister, according to the New York Times. Leonard’s brother, 17-year-old Christopher, was also severely beaten, but survived the attack. As of Oct. 16, Christopher was still in the hospital and cooperating with police.
Irwin, who said he was not involved in the beating, added that he saw Lucas throughout the hours-long ordeal and that he seemed to be coherent.
“He didn’t seem overly injured,” Irwin said at the preliminary hearing on Oct. 15. “He was walking on his own.”
Irwin said that the last time he saw Leonard conscious was just before dawn on morning the morning of Oct. 12, hours after the attack began. He was lying on the ground of the church.
“I remember that he was rolling himself back and forth on the floor and making a sustained monotone moan,” Irwin said.
Later that morning, many of the church members tried frantically to help Leonard.
“I went back down to the main sanctuary,” Irwin continued. “I saw Luke Leonard lying on the floor.”
Leonard was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
An attorney for Deborah Leonard, the boys’ mother, claimed that Leonard and his brother were being punished for sexually molesting young church members. A New Hartford Police spokesperson dismissed the claims as “completely unfounded.”
Leonard's parents, Bruce Leonard, 65, and Deborah, 59, have been charged with first-degree manslaughter. Leonard's half sister, Sarah Ferguson, and Joseph Irwin, a deacon at the church and Daniel Irwin's older brother, were both charged with assault. Two other congregants, David Morey and Linda Morey, were also charged in the incident but were released on bail.
They all reportedly attended the preliminary hearing on Oct. 16.
According to former World of Life members, it is not uncommon for congregants to accuse their fellow church members of misdeeds during service, the New York Times reported. The rumors were usually false, but could often split families apart, ex-members said.