Fallen followers: Investigation finds 10 more dead children of faith healers

KATU News, Oregon/November 8, 2013

By Dan Tilkin

Boise, Idaho -- Peaceful Valley Cemetery sits on a windswept hill 30 miles east of Boise.

Some of The Followers of Christ faith healers bury their dead there.

The same last names appear over and again, going back decades. Some - like Beagley - are the same names you’ll see in a similar cemetery in Oregon City.

In 2010, jurors in Clackamas County convicted Jeff and Marci Beagley of letting their son Neal die of an untreated urinary tract infection.

KATU’s Dan Tilkin covered that story, as he has so many faith-healing stories. That’s why he traveled to Idaho to trace the connections between Followers members in both states, and a new trail of dead children.

Faces of the fallen: Read the autopsy reports for 12 of the dead children. Warning - extremely graphic content.

A former member of the Followers of Christ advised him to go to Peaceful Valley and look for two specific names.

He found them. He found many more.

Garrett Dean Eells.

The coroner’s report says Garrett was a 6-day-old baby who died of interstitial pneumonitis. That’s pneumonia, untreated.

Jackson Scott Porter.

Jackson was a baby girl. She lived only 20 minutes. The coroner’s report said she received no pre-natal care.

Her grandfather, Mark Jerome, says she died in his house three months ago after his daughter went into labor.

“Well, when she came over, she was just sick - like a kidney infection or something like that,” Jerome said. “So she just wanted to come to the house for a couple days. And when she had the baby no one expected it, it just happened that quick."

The coroner used the words “extreme prematurity” to describe the labor.

Jerome said he doesn’t regret the lack of pre-natal care. That gets to the heart of faith-healing.

“That's the way we believe,” he said. “We believe in God and the way God handles the situation, the way we do things."

Preston Bowers and Rockwell Sevy.

The Canyon County coroner believes Preston had Down’s Syndrome, and that the 2-year-old died of pneumonia.

KATU reported on his death in 2011, along with that of 14-year-old Rocky.

Rocky isn’t buried in the cemetery, but he lived nearby with his parents, Sally and Dan.

They didn’t want to talk about not getting him treatment.

"What I will talk to you about is the law,” Dan Sevy said. “I would like to remind you this country was founded on religious freedom, and on freedom in general. I would like to say, I picture freedom as a full object. It's not like you take "a" freedom away. It's that you chip at the entire thing. Freedom is freedom. Whenever you try to restrict any one person, then you're chipping away at freedom. Yours and mine."

That was that. Sevy didn’t want to talk any more about it.

“I told you I'm not going to do that,” he said. “You don't understand the full story, and I'm not going to stand in front of a camera and give you the whole story. It's just not going to happen. I see the way these things get edited out.

“All I see is an aggressive campaign against Christianity in general, it’s amazing to me in this day and age where Muslims get soft pedaled and Christians are under attack. It just blows my mind.”

Unfortunately, those weren’t the only names in the cemetery. There are 10 new graves that look as though they belong to children that have appeared since KATU’s last report in 2011.

Arrian Jade Granden.

Arrian was 15 years old. She ran track at Parma Middle School.

In June 2012, she got food poisoning.

She vomited so badly she ruptured her esophagus.

She slipped into unconsciousness and went into cardiac arrest.

She died.

Micah Taylor Eells.

The autopsy says Micah died of “likely an intestinal blockage.”

Micah was four days old.

None of the parents of the children who are buried at Peaceful Valley Cemetery will be prosecuted. Oregon wiped out its laws protecting faith-healers. Idaho did not.

Pamela Jade Eells.

Doctor Charles Garrison performed the autopsy on 16-year-old Pamela. She died of pneumonia.

"If you’ve ever been in a situation where you can’t breathe, it’s pretty desperate.

"You’re drowning in your own fluids.”

The coroner’s report says Pamela died after a long chronic battle with an infection in her pelvic bone.

Garrison hasn’t forgotten.

“It's inexplicable to me to comprehend how anyone can watch a child die and do nothing,” he said.

Linda Martin has seen it before. She’s a former Followers of Christ who grew up near Boise. She left when she was a teenager, and lives in Oregon now.

She contacted KATU when she realized more children were dying. She said she is related to many of them.

She keeps their obituaries in an album.

“Everybody hears about the Oregon City trials and the Oregon City churches,” she said. “What they don't understand is the Idaho churches are more rigid, they are unbending, and they are more ruthless then the Oregon churches are.

“It happens one at a time, and the church is so good at covering up that most people don't even know what's going on next door to them."

Jerry Gardener.

Jerry was Linda’s cousin. In 1980, he died from diabetes at the age of 11.

Both Martin and Dr. Garrison are frustrated Idaho hasn’t followed Oregon’s lead.

In Idaho, you can use faith-healing as a defense when it comes to children.

In Oregon, you can’t.

Syble Rossiter.

Syble was 12 when she died in Albany, Ore., last February.

Her parents, Travis and Wenona Rossiter, face manslaughter charges.

They belong to a congregation called “Church of the First Born” in Brownsville, Ore. According to Linda Martin’s family tree and other historical sources, that church is related to the Followers of Christ.

There’s at least one significant difference between the churches: When a child dies in Idaho due to lack of medical care, the parents aren’t breaking any laws.

“The state of Idaho has the religious shield laws to where you can just about murder your child in cold blood and claim religious exemptions and get away with it,” Martin said.

So many more names.

Of the 553 marked graves at Peaceful Valley Cemetery, 144 appear to be children under 18. That’s more than 25 percent.

Those deaths happened primarily in three different counties, which are manned by three different coroners who aren’t bringing the information to the public.

Very few people had a good idea how many children were dying until now. Linda Martin started a Facebook page to keep track of them. That’s still probably not a complete reckoning.

There are four such churches in Idaho, and they don’t get along.

“Difference of opinions, difference of religion, different ideas - we follow the word for what it is, what the bible says,” said Mark Jerome, who attends the Followers of Christ Church in Marsing, Idaho.

Followers members use at least two more cemeteries.

The caretaker at Star Cemetery in Star, Idaho said a Followers member recently showed up saying he needed to bury a baby. The baby was in the back seat of his car. The caretaker said he made the church member get a death certificate before he buried the child.

A spokesman for Idaho Governor Butch Otter asked to see the results of this investigation.

The state recently put together a child death review team, which will likely be looking at faith-healing deaths soon.

No significant move to change the laws is underway.

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