People Magazine Investigates TV - The Independent online -
It’s hard to imagine the damage they did to these children. People Magazine: Word of Life Cult, ID 2018
In 2015 the brutal beatings of two teenage brothers at the small Word of Life Christian Church in upstate New York made headlines nationwide. ibid.
For members of Word of Life Church, Pastor Jerry is a true prophet … The Irwins control all aspects of their followers’ lives. ibid.
After his death, Jerry Irwin’s followers expect him to be resurrected. They spend days praying for him to rise from the dead. ibid.
‘Under Tiffany the Church was even more strict and rigid. Services did become longer and more tyrannical.’ ibid. survivor
As Bruce and Debi Leonard’s interrogations continue, doctors discover Lucas’ true cause of death … Lucas Leonard had been whipped and beaten across his entire body. ibid.
A former member of the New York church at the centre of a beating death investigation has claimed the organisation bullied and abused its members and used the bible as a ‘source of pain’. He said the church was a ‘cult’ that manipulated its members and damaged many people.
Chadwick Handville joined the church in the early 1990s when he moved to New Hartford, and said it was initially a welcoming group. He claimed that changed when the former leader, the late Jerry Irwin, returned to take control.
‘When Jerry came back it just went downhill,’ said Mr Handville, speaking from Arizona. ‘He methodically took control of everything. He removed people from positions of authority.’
He added: ‘[They] used the bible as a source to incite pain in people, emotionally and spiritually.’
The organisation to which Mr Handville was referring, The Word of Life Christian Church in New Hartford, is at the centre of a police investigation after two of its teenage members were severely beaten – one of them fatally – in a so-called counselling session to correct them for unspecified transgressions. Six members, including the teenagers’ parents, have been arrested.
Mr Handville, 47, a licensed massage therapist and writer and who left the church in 2000, said Mr Irwin oversaw an environment of control where people were punished for things he deemed inappropriate. He said he found it ‘bullying and hurtful’. He said there were between 30-40 members of the church.
He said Bruce and Deborah Leonard, the couple who have been charged with manslaughter for the death of their son 19-year-old Lucas and the assault on 17-year-old Christopher, were themselves frequently punished.
He said it was rare that the couple were not on ‘church discipline’. ‘Shoving, abusing, cutting off friendships, cannot talk to them, no socialising, not being allowed to invite them to dinner,’ he said. Independent online article 17 October 2015 Andrew Buncombe