Lucas Leonard, age 19, was beaten to death by a gang that included his parents, Bruce and Deborah Leonard, his half-sister, Sarah Ferguson, and several other members of the Word of Life Church in New Hartford, New York. Lucas’s 17-year-old brother Christopher was also severely beaten by the church members and was subsequently hospitalized. The Leonards homeschooled Lucas, Christopher, and their two younger siblings. The extent of their interaction with the school district was “the parents sending the district curriculum proposals at the beginning of the year”.
Bruce Leonard worked as a special education teaching assistant in Utica School District. The Leonards were very religious, forcing their children to read the Bible two hours each day and forbidding them from participating in sleepovers, Christmas, and Halloween. Ferguson and her four children lived with the Leonards in their Clayville home. Following a church service on the evening of October 11, the boys attended a counseling session with their parents and half-sister; their pastor Tiffanie Irwin, her mother Traci Irwin, and her brothers Joseph and Daniel Irwin; and church member Linda Morey and her son David Morey. The boys were asked to confess their sins and beg for forgiveness; the counseling session turned into a multiple-hour assault involving flogging with an electrical cord, punching, and kicking. Church members found Lucas unresponsive the next morning and took him to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Police later found Christopher injured inside the church.
The Irwins, the Moreys, Bruce Leonard, and Sarah Ferguson were charged with “manslaughter, kidnapping, assault and gang assault.” All except Daniel Irwin were also charged with murder. Deborah Leonard accepted a plea deal to plead guilty to assault in exchange for her testimony against the other eight people. At least seven children ages 2 to 15 were taken into custody by social services.
Date: October 11, 2015
Location: Clayville, New York