#Open journalism No news is bad news

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support The Journal
Dublin: 15°C Friday 6 August 2021

Seven charged with murdering teenager in secretive church "confession" beating

19-year-old Lucas Leonard was trying to leave the “Word of Life” church in New York, when he was beaten to death over six hours.

newhartfordcharged (L-R) Traci Irwin, Tiffanie Irwin, Joseph Irwin, Sarah Ferguson, Linda Morey, David Morey, Bruce Leonard Source: PA

THE LEADER OF a secretive New York church where a young man was beaten to death was among seven people charged with murder this week.

Pastor Tiffanie Irwin and her mother, Traci Irwin, were charged along with Irwin’s two brothers, Joseph and Daniel Irwin, all of whom were leaders in the church.

Authorities have said “spiritual counseling” spiraled into an all-night gang attack on Lucas and Christopher Leonard inside the Word of Life Christian Church, a red-brick former school in the town of New Hartford, in upstate New York.

At a hearing last month, Christopher Leonard, 17, testified that Tiffanie Irwin asked the Leonard family and some others to stay behind for a meeting after an eight-hour Sunday service.

Over what he estimated was six or more hours, the teen said he was pummeled with fists and whipped with a four-foot electrical wire on his back and elsewhere, suffering injuries to his torso and genitals.

Authorities said the meeting was called because Lucas Leonard, 19, had indicated he wanted to leave the church.

After the attack, the beating victims’ relatives wouldn’t tell officers where to find the injured Christopher Leonard, who was ultimately located on the church’s second floor, investigators said.

Church Killing Word of Life church Pastor Tiffanie Irwin, who is accused of leading the brutal confession ritual against the Leonard brothers. Source: AP

Also charged were the victims’ father, Bruce Leonard; their half-sister Sarah Ferguson; and two other church members — Linda Morey and her son, David Morey.

All eight also face charges of manslaughter, kidnapping, assault and gang assault for the attacks.

All but Daniel Irwin are charged with second-degree murder.

Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara said the victims’ mother, Deborah Leonard, would be charged separately.

101315 leonard MDD The victims' parents Bruce and Deborah Leonard. Source: AP

Her lawyer, Devin Garramone, said she would be arraigned next week on charges of first-degree assault in the death of Lucas Leonard and second-degree assault for the attack on Christopher Leonard.

Garramone has said the mother felt helpless to stop an “intervention” that she didn’t expect to become so harsh and he didn’t believe she caused the fatal injuries.

The church has existed for as many as 30 years in a rural part of New Hartford, a town of 22,000 people about 50 miles from the city of Syracuse.

The church once had 40 or more members but now counts closer to 20, police Chief Michael Inserra said after the attack.

Read: Parents charged after teenager is beaten to death in secretive church “confession” ritual>

Read: Fatal flood opens old wounds for an isolated, polygamous sect with a dark past>

About the author:

Associated Press

Read next: