Former member calls deadly church ‘a cult’

NEW HARTFORD – A former member of a nearby church where one boy was fatally beaten to death in a so-called spiritual ritual on Monday says the church was “a cult.”

Police said that two teens were beaten for several hours inside the Word of Life Church in New Hartford, resulting in the death of one of the boys.

New Hartford Police Chief Michael Inserra said at a news conference Wednesday that 19-year-old Lucas Leonard died of his injuries. His brother, 17-year-old Christopher Leonard, remains in serious condition but is able to speak.

Authorities said the assault was perpetrated by the boys’ parents, Bruce and Deborah Leonard, and four other church members.

A former member of the Word of Life Church spoke with The Evening Sun Wednesday, and described the church as “a cult.” The church is approximately 45 miles north of Norwich.

The woman who was with the church in the 1980s and 1990s requested to remain anonymous for her safety.

“Even when I was there nearly 30 years ago, some things happened,” she said. “They were really trying to control everyone and everything.”

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