Invisible Children

2 Children of Bruce and Deborah Leonard

Content note: Case narratives include descriptions of severe violence inflicted on children, including abuse and neglect, sexual violence, torture, and murder, as well as mentions of suicide and domestic violence. They also include photos of victims and perpetrators of violence.

leonards et al
Top row: Tiffanie Irwin, Traci Irwin, Joseph Irwin, Daniel Irwin
Middle row: Bruce Leonard, Deborah Leonard, Sarah Ferguson
Bottom row: Linda Morey, David Morey

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
Clayville, New York


Documents: Date:
6 church members arrested after teen dies from blunt force trauma 10-13-2015
Parents of killed New Hartford teen banned Halloween, Mickey Mouse, friends say 10-13-2015
Parents charged with killing son at New Hartford church; 4 other church members arrested 10-13-2015
Married couple charged with beating their 19-year-old son to death at their church with the help of four other congregants 10-13-2015
2 Brothers Were Beaten for Hours at Secretive New York Church, Police Say 10-14-2015
Parents charged with beating son to death in church 10-14-2015
Police: ​Parents beat son to death in church “counseling session” 10-14-2015
6 N.Y. church members arrested after teen dies in assault 10-14-2015
Police: Brothers were beaten in church to make them confess 10-14-2015
Plan to Defect Cited in Fatal Beating at New York Church 10-15-2015
Survivor of Word of Life Church Beatings Testifies in Court 10-21-2015
8 Indicted in Fatal Beating at Word of Life Church 11-24-2015
Pastor among seven charged with murder of teen in New York church 11-25-2015
Mother pleads guilty in beating death of son in New York church 12-02-2015