The Death of Lucas Leonard and the Word of Life Christian Church


Six members of the Word of Life Christian Church in New Hartford, New York, have been arrested after the 19-year-old son of two of the suspects died from blunt force trauma injuries, police announced Tuesday.

Lucas Leonard, 19, was taken by family members in a car to a hospital in nearby Utica on Monday afternoon. The New Hartford Police Department said Leonard was injured during an assault and was pronounced dead at the hospital.

A Clayville couple and four other members of their church are accused of beating the couple’s son to death and severely injuring his younger brother.

Bruce and Deborah Leonard of Clayville were arraigned in New Hartford Town Court on first-degree manslaughter charges shortly after 1 p.m. Tuesday. Bruce Leonard is 65 and Deborah Leonard is 59. Bruce Leonard is listed as one of the original trustees of Word of Life Christian Church in Chadwicks which was the scene of the crime.

Their son, 19-year-old Lucas Leonard, died at St. Luke’s campus of the Mohawk Valley Health System on Monday from injuries to his stomach, genitals, back and thighs, according to information presented at the arraignment. A second son, Christopher Leonard, 17, also suffered similar injuries and was hospitalized, officials said.

Investigators determined that the 19 year old was beaten at the church, the New Hartford police said. Police were originally called to the hospital and told that Leonard had been shot, but authorities said later a gunshot wound had not been confirmed.

Two brothers were severely beaten — one of whom died — inside Word of Life Christian Church Monday afternoon, but the events that led up to 19-year-old Lucas Leonard’s death and the assault of his younger brother Christopher, 17, still are unclear.

Both victims suffered injuries to their stomachs, genitals, backs and thighs, police said.

Four other church members were charged with felony second-degree assault for allegedly injuring Christopher Leonard. They are Joseph Irwin, 26, of Chadwicks; David Morey, 26, and Linda Morey, 54, both of Utica; and Sarah Ferguson, 33 of Clayville. All pleaded not guilty.

Authorities found several children in the church and called in child protective services.

A second assault victim — a 17-year-old boy — also was found, police said. He is at a hospital in serious condition, they said. The two brothers were home-schooled, according to Ron Wheelock, superintendent of Sauquoit Valley Central School District.

Bruce Leonard was a teaching assistant with the Utica City School District as recently as this year, according to John Syrotynski, the district’s director of security. He was born in Cooperstown, but has lived in the area for at least 20 years.

Deborah Leonard, 59, has health issues requiring medication, according to her attorney. Her husband has a separate attorney. She’s lived in the area for at least 30 years, and has been married to Bruce for more than 20 years, her attorney said.

Attempts for comment from church officials were unsuccessful.

The church is a three-story former school building that eventually closed after the Sauqouit and Chadwicks districts merged.

To the left, the building is shrouded by tall, dense trees. To the right, there’s a gate that neighbors say they’ve never seen open.

“When they first took over the building, they would post Mass schedules so people knew when there were services,” Brown said. “Now, it’s not like just anyone could go to church there. … It’s kind of been the running joke that there’s a cult there.”

Bruce Leonard bought and filed a certificate of incorporation for the church in 1992. According to that document filed with Oneida County, Leonard was a trustee of the church.

One former neighbor said those who lived at or attended the church were “very odd and protective of the place.”

“There was just a really weird vibe about the place,” said Adriane Hectus, who lived next door five years ago.

She recalls one Halloween when members stood outside as lookouts.

“They would have a few people guard the property by walking back and forth in front of it all night,” she said.


Christopher Leonard, 17, who was beaten along with his brother Lucas Leonard, 19, inside the church, shed some light on the incident to law enforcement officials. His brother died as a result of his injuries. Chris Leonard is the primary witness in a felony hearing against his half-sister Sarah Ferguson, one of six church members accused of participating in the attack. She has been charged with felony second-degree assault.

Leonard also revealed that it was the church’s pastor, Tiffany Irwin, who called the so-called counseling session on Sunday, Oct. 11, when the attack occurred. Leonard testified that after a standard eight-hour long service, Tiffany Irwin excused the rest of the congregation but requested that the Leonard family, stay behind for a meeting. Officials said Lucas wanted to leave the church as a motive for the meeting.

The meeting was to “talk about what we had done,” he said. He described how he and his brother were directed to stand in the center of the church’s small sanctuary and were asked questions by the pastor. When they did not respond, his parents, sister and other congregants punched them and whipped them with a folded-over electrical cord.

“I held out my hands to stop the whip,” he told the court.

Christopher Leonard eventually was removed to another room, where he was fitted with earplugs and earmuffs so he could not hear Lucas being questioned. When he was later brought back into the small sanctuary, he saw his brother on the floor.

“I looked over and saw Luke on the ground,” he testified. “I rushed over and saw he wasn’t breathing. I was trying to give him CPR. Someone went up to find (spiritual leader Traci Irwin) – she was pressing on his chest while I tried to fill up his lungs.”


4 responses to “The Death of Lucas Leonard and the Word of Life Christian Church”

  1. AnthonyB says:

    I’ve been following your Vril research Barlowe and I think these people mighta been up to no good! Beyond these strange christian beliefs that seem more like satanic, evil actions this could be some sort of child sacrifice couldn’t it? There’s a great video on Youtube about the Vril society and child sacrifice I’d like to bring your attention to. This sure seems like there might be more to this than just a kid wanting to leave his church. What a horrible, horrible thing. I hope these bastards fry.

    Here’s the link:

  2. Mark Johnson says:

    This sounds like Vril Nazis at work again, guising as Christians. Taking the name of Christ and using it as a cover for their diabolical plans. Bastards.

  3. Jared Allen says:

    Holy shit!

  4. Kyle Martin says:

    scum. typical valley scum. hiding behind religion. gross

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