The pastor of a cult-like group pled guilty last week to manslaughter after she beat two teenage boys (one to death) during a religious “counseling session.”
Tiffanie Irwin, leader of The World of Life Christian Church in New Hartford N.Y., requested that Lucas Leonard, 19, and brother Christopher, 17, come to a special eight-hour Sunday service and stay after so that they can help the siblings repent for their sins. Such misdeeds cited included, wanting to leave the church, using a voodoo doll, and an unsubstantiated claim that they molested the children of their half-sister, Sarah Ferguson, according to the Associated Press.
Besides Irwin, half-sister Ferguson, mother-son pair Linda and David Morey, and the teens’ parents, Bruce and Deborah Leonard, were present for both the eight-hour service and the extracurricular “ceremony.”
To compel the brothers’ to repent, Tiffanie, along with other worshippers, beat the teens for roughly 14 hours. They used a four-foot electrical cord to flog the brothers’ torsos and genitals demanding that they “confess to prior sins and ask for forgiveness,” reports The Washington Post.
Christopher Leonard was separated at one point in another room and was provided earplugs and earmuffs so that he could not to hear his brother Lucas being questioned by the parishioners. After being brought back into the small sanctuary room, Christopher found his brother lifeless.
“I looked over and saw Luke on the ground,” Christopher testified in court, according to the Observer-Dispatch. “I rushed over and saw he wasn’t breathing. I was trying to give him CPR. Someone went up to find [the pastor] — she was pressing on his chest while I tried to fill up his lungs.”
Lucas was rushed to a nearby hospital and died from blunt-force trauma. Investigators soon found out that the severe injuries occurred at the church and subsequently raided the religious group’s premises. There, the authorities found Christopher lying on the ground, bleeding profusely.
Christopher was admitted to the hospital in serious condition, according to another report from The Washington Post.
There were nine total involved in the criminal charges, including Pastor Tiffanie Irwin. Linda and David Morey along with Joseph Irwin, brother of Pastor Tiffanie, pled guilty to assault; Traci Irwin, the church’s matriarch and mother of Tiffanie, and her son Daniel, pled guilty to unlawful imprisonment in prior months. The teens’ parents also previously pled guilty to assault after originally being charged with first-degree manslaughter.
The only one not to accept a plea deal was Ferguson, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for manslaughter and assault.
Many neighbors of the church, which is a three-story brick building, say that they often see members after 3 a.m. and hear weird chants coming from the building, according to the Syracuse Post-Standard. One woman said she saw men in the church wear “long, black trenchcoats.”
“There’s always weird things going on. You always hear dogs, they’re breeding dogs. The cops have been called there before, they’re not allowed in the building, they can’t get in the building,” another town resident told WKTV.
A reporter from the Syracuse Post-Standard was invited into the building days after the fatal whipping and found peculiar items. “We have been commissioned through the written word of God to reach out to those who have not experienced the love of Jesus Christ in their lives … Through the systematic training up of saints, our goal is for them to reach out confidently, sharing the love and compassion of Jesus Christ,” a stitched textile framed on the wall said.
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