The building now lies eerily silent. The sign on the door still greets passersby; “Welcome to Word of Life.” Inside, Styrofoam cups sit with cold coffee still inside. A notebook lies open on the counter with what looks like sermon notes.
Neighbors of the Word of Life church describe it as “cult-like”. They have reported hearing members singing and chanting in the middle of the night and then male members of the church walk around in “long, black trenchcoats”.
It was here where police say that a couple allegedly beat one of their teenage sons to death and seriously injured their other son with help from the congregation.
19 year-old Lucas Leonard was pronounced dead on Monday afternoon at a local hospital as a result of blunt-force trauma. The teen presented with blows to his abdomen, back, thighs, and genitals. His 17 year-old brother, who has not yet been named, is in serious condition.
Lucas was taken to hospital early Monday afternoon by family members, where they claimed that he had been shot. He was pronounced dead at the hospital shortly after. It was deemed that the cause of death was blunt-force trauma, and that the attack had taken place at the Word of Life Church.
Police swarmed the Church of Life and performed a “tactical entry” into the building. Here they found Lucas Leonard’s injured brother. The teen was rushed to the hospital. Several other children were also found. They were turned over to child protective services.
According to police, Bruce Leonard, 65, and his wife Deborah, 59, have both been charged with first-degree manslaughter. Fellow church members David Morey, Linda Morey, Sarah Ferguson, and Joseph Irwin have all been charged with second-degree manslaughter. Police have yet to comment on a possible motive for the attack.
“There’s always been weird things going on,” a nearby resident Julie Howard told reporters, “The cult thing over here has been going on for a while, I guess around 30 years. It’s their own religion everybody stays in their own religion. It’s like one big happy family of about 30 of them.”
At an arraignment on Tuesday, the couple pleaded not guilty to the charges. A hearing is set for Friday to determine if there is enough evidence to proceed with a grand jury trial.
The murder charges “require intent,” Don Gerace, Bruce Leonard’s lawyer, said, “and I believe the evidence showing specific intent is going to be lacking.”
Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara did not comment on the case due to the ongoing police investigation.
However, he told reporters “I’m sure there will be more charges. There are a lot of things going on. There are more people who could be charged too.”