Before this week, few people knew about what went on inside the brick walls of the Word of Life Christian Church in the village of Chadwicks, within the town of New Hartford, New York. But the recent beating to death of Lucas Leonard, a teenage church member, has begun to pull back the veil on the mysterious group, and details from law enforcement of the incident are consistent with what academics call “religious abuse” and possibly cult-like practices.
Police say that following Sunday Mass on October 11, six church members, including the 19-year-old’s parents Bruce and Deborah Leonard, beat him so he would confess his sins during a “counseling session.” The beating was so bad that family members eventually took Lucas to a hospital, where he died from blunt force trauma to his abdomen, back, thighs and genitals. Law enforcement later found that his brother, Christopher, also showed signs of assault. He too was hospitalized.
Deborah and Bruce Leonard face manslaughter charges and are each being held in lieu of $100,000 bail. A felony hearing was scheduled for Friday. Four more church members, including the boys’ half sister, face assault charges.