The Followers of Christ Church in Oregon is known for its sometimes deadly adherence to the practice of faith healing, and now a young couple is facing murder charges for choosing prayer over doctors.
Sarah Elaine Mitchell, 24, and Travis Lee Mitchell, 21, were charged with murder and first-degree criminal mistreatment in the March 5 death of their daughter Gennifer Mitchell, according to a report from The Oregonian.
Sarah Mitchell’s sister, along with other church members have faced criminal charges in the deaths of their children from untreated medical conditions in the past, but this is first time any church member has faced charges.
From The Oregonian:
Investigators said the baby was having trouble breathing after she was delivered at the home of Sarah Mitchell’s parents near Oregon City, but that no one called 911. The surviving twin, Evelyn, was later taken to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland for treatment. It’s unclear who has custody of the surviving twin.
Church elder Carl Hanson contacted the county’s medical examiner’s office to report the baby’s death about an hour and a half after it occurred, according to a search warrant affidavit. Eric Tonsfeldt, the county deputy medical examiner who responded, later told investigators that it was “very common, and in fact the norm” for a Followers of Christ member to call the Medical Examiner’s Office directly when someone in the church community died.
According to a court affidavit, the couple said the baby became “less fussy” after being alive for about 4 hours before it suddenly stopped breathing. The mother had given birth at her parent’s house. A church elder reportedly contacted the medical examiner’s office when the child died, but no one bothered to call a doctor when the baby was under duress. A coroner’s report revealed the child died due to lung problems resulting from a premature birth.
Child deaths have plagued the church for years. The Oregonian reports that members “believe the sick will be anointed by elders and that their faith will heal all ailments. Death, if it comes, is God’s will.” Responding to the spate of deaths, the Oregon legislature disallowed religious beliefs to be a court defense for homicide charges that result from the practice.
Watch a report on the church from KION in the video below:
Featured image: Travis Lee Mitchell and Sarah Elaine Mitchell (Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office)