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Candlelight vigil held in New Hartford outside Word of Life Church

Kevin Montano
New York Reporting Project at Utica College
Community members hold candlelight vigil outside the Word of Life Church to pray for two teenage brothers allegedly beaten at the church.

A week after the brutal beating of two teenage boys at the Word of Life Church in New Hartford, about 150 community members gathered Tuesday night outside the church building for a candlelight vigil.

They came together to reflect and to pray for 19-year-old Lucas Leonard, who was beaten to death, and his brother 17-year-old Christopher, who is recovering from his injuries. Their parents, Deborah and Bruce Leonard, have been charged with manslaughter.

Father Abraham Esper is the pastor of the Catholic church, St. Patrick - St. Anthony, which is next door. The church helped sponsor the vigil.

“We come together and we put a face on the grief and the fear that we feel right now,” said Esper.

Those gathered Tuesday prayed not only for justice for both brothers, but also for peace for the surviving brother, Christopher,

“I lost a son many years ago. He was about the same age as Lucas and I just felt like I needed to be here,” Elizabeth Richards lives just down the street from Word of Life Church

“And by praying tonight to the god that we all believe in, a god of mercy, a god of justice and peace. It will give us strength and direction as we go ahead,” said Esper.

Stacey Wendell, who organized the vigil, is pushing to have the church closed.

“We’re going to get this boy justice, we’re going to get him justice,” said Wendell.

Christopher Lucas now faces the ordeal of a trial of his parents, his half-sister and three other church members for the incident. Christopher was released from a hospital over the weekend. He is scheduled to testify Wednesday afternoon at a preliminary hearing for church members charged with assault for beating him.

Kevin Montano reported this story as part of the New York Reporting Project at Utica College. You can read more of the project's storiesat their website, nyrp-uc.org.