Officials: Mystery surrounds baby's death

Police say church/state issue 'going to be a touchy situation'

Jacksonville Daily Progress/May 31, 2012

Wells -- Cherokee County Sheriff officials are trying to pinpoint details about the church the parents of a 3-day-old infant who died on Saturday were members of.

The department received a call regarding the infant's death at 4 a.m. Sunday, although the death occurred 15 hours earlier at 1 p.m. on Saturday. The caller told officials they had prolonged calling first-aid responders because they were praying over the child.

"I think they refer to themselves as Church of Wells," Cherokee County Detective Dusty Lee said. "I don't know that for fact but from some of the interviews of people who were involved."

Lee said some of those interviewed made comments they once belonged to a church that many consider to be a cult religion.

"You start dealing with churches or institutions like this, you can't fault someone for having their faith and doing what they do, but there is a reason that God makes people intelligent enough to be doctors," said Capt. John Raffield with the sheriff's department. "We've never had an incident like this in Cherokee County."

Officials said they are unsure of where the baby was born.

"We know the baby was taken from house to house after passing away, so we are not sure where the baby was born and are not sure where the baby passed away," Lee said.

Precinct 4 Constable Jack White said he does not know exactly when the group came into town, but he said they have been around for about a year. He said they purchased a few homes in the community.

"Basically it's a group that has means to set up in Wells as an outreach," White said. "My understanding is they are trying to do some mission works at S.F.A. and Angelina College and in the Wells area as well."

White said he has run into the group a few times, but has not had any negative experiences with them, and he has never issued a citation to the members.

Officials suspect the religious group intended to purchase 100 acres in Cherokee County at the edge of the county line with Angelina County.

White said he does not believe the group has a physical church established.

"I know they have gathered and prayed in places (such as) in their front yard," he said. "They've done that. I don't even know that of them having a location."

Raffield said he does not suspect foul-play to be involved. The infant's body was sent for an autopsy.

"I don't think they killed the baby," he said. "I think the baby died because of some kind of complication."

Raffield said no one has been arrested in reference to the incident.

"You have these things around the country, but this is the first time we have had something this serious in Cherokee County that we have had to deal with," Raffield said. "It's going to be a touchy situation."

"We don't want to step on churches rights — the line is blurred sometimes between church and state —and you have all kinds of arguments there," he said. "I'm not sure how this one is gong to run. I know we are going to do what we have to by state law."

"Ultimately it will be up to the district attorney's office on how he wants to cover it," Raffield said.

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