One Teen Killed, One Injured in Bizarre Church Beating in Upstate New York

Information is unfolding about a bizarre church beating in upstate New York. Members beat two teen brothers in an attempt to get them to “confess their sins.” One of the boys died.

The beating allegedly began as a counseling session on Sunday to get Lucas Leonard, 19, and his brother Christopher, 17, to confess prior sins and to ask for forgiveness. It is not yet clear why the session escalated to a beating where church members used both their hands and feet to inflict injuries upon the boys’ torsos and extremities.

Six church members, including the boys’ parents and half-sister, were arrested for Lucas’s death and for Christopher’s serious injuries.

The Word of Life Christian Church is located in New Hartford, a Utica suburb west of Albany. Although witnesses state that the members tended to isolate themselves, were very secretive, and frequently exhibited bizarre behavior and activity, it was not considered to be a cult. The church is located in a former schoolhouse.

Among those taken into custody were the teenagers’ parents. Bruce T. Leonard, 65, and Deborah Leonard, 59, have been charged with first-degree manslaughter. The boys’ half-sister, Sarah Ferguson, 33, has also been arrested and will face felony assault charges.

church beating in upstate New York

Two teen brothers were severely beaten in a bizarre church beating in upstate New York. One brother has died and the other is seriously injured. Photo credit: Twitter/The New York Times

The Leonards were long-time members of the church with Bruce Leonard being listed on official church documents as a trustee. It has also been confirmed that he has been working as a teaching assistant since 2007 in the special education department of the public school system. His wife, Deborah, has a stent in her heart due to a serious heart condition and requires around-the-clock medical care. The Leonards home-schooled their two sons.

Oneida County district attorney Scott D. McNamara does not believe that the parents intended to kill their son. He alleged though that they were trying to seriously injure him, and he succumbed to his injuries.

Authorities began investigating when the parents showed up with Leonard at the hospital on Monday. He later died and an autopsy revealed that his death was the result of blunt force trauma. His injuries were so severe that medical personnel originally believed that he had been shot, an allegation which was later proved to be unfounded.

Hospital officials called police, and a SWAT team was dispatched to the couple’s home in Clayville and to the church, where they found Christopher badly injured on the second floor after a multi-hour search.

The assaults occurred after a Sunday night service at the church. Police reports indicate that the boys were beaten over the course of several hours.


Video: YouTube/CBSN

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