4 Things You'll Learn About a Killer Church Cult from Monday's Episode of PMI: Cults
The New York-based religious sect has been dismantled following the 2015 beating death of one of its teenage members
In October 2015, the Word of Life Christian Church — a small, reclusive religious sect in Chadwicks, New York — was thrust into the national spotlight after police arrested nine congregants for their roles in the hours-long beatings of two teenage brothers, killing one of them.
Lucas Leonard, 19, bled to death on a hospital gurney after being punched, kicked and whipped over 12 hours on Oct 11. 2015.
His younger brother, then-17-year-old Christopher, survived the ordeal but is still recovering from his injuries nearly three years later.
Among those taken into custody in the attack were the boys’ parents, Bruce and Deborah Leonard.
Lucas’ killing and the church that made it possible will be featured on Monday night’s episode of People Magazine Investigates: Cults, airing on Investigation Discovery and exclusively previewed above.
Here are four things viewers will learn from the hour.
• For more on the Word of Life Christian Church and the death of Lucas Leonard, watch Monday’s People Magazine Investigates: Cults at 9 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery.
1. Bruce and Deborah Leonard Refused to Cooperate with Investigators
In Monday’s episode of PMI: Cults, viewers will get their first look at interrogation videos captured immediately after the arrests of the Leonards, showing both parents were conflicted about helping the detectives investigating their son’s death.
The couple, while obviously concerned for their son’s condition, seemed reluctant to discuss the location of the fatal assault (inside the church sanctuary) or who was involved.
Video also captured the moment Bruce learned his son was dead: Moments after being seen praying in a room inside New Hartford Police headquarters, he emitted a pained bellow, clutching his head, as he was told Lucas didn’t survive.
2. Doctors Treating Him Believed Lucas Had Been Shot
After going limp during the interminable assault, Lucas was brought to a nearby hospital. His father drove him to the emergency room in a van. His mother was also in the van, as viewers will see in security footage featured in the episode.
Because Lucas’ jeans were saturated with blood, doctors initially assumed he had been shot in the groin. It wasn’t until they cut his pants off that they found the lacerations, bruises and welts he sustained.
As prosecutor Scott McNamara explains, Lucas’ body poisoned itself: His wounds led his body to produce toxins that ravaged his organs.
3. Church Leader Jerry Irwin Had an Affinity for Daughter Tiffanie
Through home video footage and audio of past sermons, PMI: Cults resurrects Word of Life founder Jerry Irwin, who died in 2012, opening the door for the reign of his daughter, Tiffanie Irwin, as pastor
In some of the home movies, Tiffanie is shown as a timid pre-teen — all smiles as her doting father calls her name while trying to avoid his camera’s lens.
Jerry also praised her in one sermon, saying, “She’s become an example in the church, with the kids … the spirit of God just changed her heart.”
Tiffanie was ordained as a minister at the age of 25.
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4. Before the Beatings, Christopher Made a Confession
Christopher, who survived his 2015 assault and recently graduated from high school, was accused of sexually abusing children within Word of Life, as was brother, Lucas. Tiffanie further alleged that the brothers were practicing witchcraft, and that the two had impure thoughts about the pastor.
Though the question of child sex abuse came up in court — with Christopher testifying he and Lucas molested the children of several Word of Life Church congregants — investigators have always insisted there was no evidence to indicate they ever harmed any children.
According to authorities, the brothers were attacked as they were preparing to defect the church, which one cult expert has described as a possible breaking point that leadership could not allow.
Monday’s episode actually features audio from a “counseling session” between Christopher and Tiffanie.
Viewers will hear portions of that confession, including Christopher’s insistence he was disrespectful to his parents and often watched pornography.
The People Magazine Investigates: Cults episode on Word of Life airs Monday (9 p.m. ET) on Investigation Discovery.