Cops: Teen Beaten to Death at Church 'Counseling Session'

6 church members—including victim's parents—arrested
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 14, 2015 5:28 PM CDT
Six members of the Word of Life Christian Church in New York were arrested Monday after a 19-year-old man was allegedly beaten to death during a "counseling session."   (Mark DiOrio/Observer-Dispatch via AP)
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(Newser) – Six members of a mysterious church in upstate New York were arrested Monday after a 19-year-old man died following a severe beating during a "counseling session," CBS News reports. Among the arrested were the victim's mother, father, and sister. His 17-year-old brother had also been beaten and is in serious condition. According to CNN, members of the Word of Life Christian Church brought Lucas Leonard to the hospital Monday where he was pronounced dead. A SWAT team entered the church Monday, finding his injured brother and handing over several other children to protective services. CBS reports the victims suffered hours of physical punishment Sunday night during "counseling" meant to get them to confess their sins and ask forgiveness. Police say Leonard "died a violent death over several hours."

Leonard's parents Bruce and Deborah Leonard were charged with manslaughter, CNN reports. The other four church members were charged with felony assault. All six pleaded not guilty, according to CBS. Police expect more arrests to come. Neighbors tell the Syracuse Post-Standard Word of Life is a cult where members are only seen after 3am and strange chants can be heard coming from inside the gated-off building. CNN reports a pastor at a neighboring Catholic church describes Word of Life as "certainly not a mainline church" and said very little is known about it or its members. (Read more manslaughter stories.)

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