According to those who live near the “Word of Life” church in New Hartford, New York, it’s known to be “a place with a really weird vibe.”
Some even say that members of the church would be up until all hours of the night reciting chants and singing songs, with the men wearing long, black trench coats.
As the Washington Post reports, many have described the church as a “cult.”
According to the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA), here are some of the most common characteristics of a cult.
“The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and its belief system, ideology. They practice ‘the Truth,’ like it’s the law.
Questioning, doubt, and dissent are often discouraged or even punished.
Mind-altering practices, like meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues are the center piece of the group.
The leader is not accountable to any authorities.
The group teaches that its leader calls the shots. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group.”
Now, six “Word of Life” parishioners have been arrested after it was determined that they beat 19-year-old Lucas Leonard to death on October 11, 2015.
According to the Washington Post, both Lucas and his 17-year-old brother, Christopher, were asked to sit in on a “counseling session” that inevitably turned violent.
During the session, Lucas and Christopher were physically punished over a span of hours in an attempt to make them “confess their sins and ask for forgiveness,” New Hartford Police Chief Michael Inserra said in a press conference.
Christopher was hospitalized and labeled in serious condition.
Their parents, Bruce and Deborah, were involved in the beatings and have been charged with manslaughter. However, Deborah’s attorney, Devin Garramone, claims that she never expected the counseling session to go as far as it did.
“It looks like she went along with it, and it spun out of control,” he tells theAssociated Press. “This woman is so meek and timid, she didn’t have the temerity to stand up to them and say, ‘You’re not punishing my kid. You’re not doing this.’”
According to the Washington Post, the church has been around for about 30 years, and the roughly 30 members of the church act like “one big happy family”.
Bruce and Deborah, however, have only been members of the church for the last eight years.
Despite what those around the church have seen, Chief Michael Inserra says their investigation has yet to prove that the “cult” accusations are true.
“People are entitled to their own opinions,” says Bruce Leonard’s attorney, Don Gerace.
While Christopher remains in the hospital in serious condition, Bruce and Deborah are set to be in court Friday to determine whether to proceed to a grand jury.