Pastor refused to help probe into death of newborn niece

The pastor of Aylmer's Church of God refused to help police investigate the death of his newborn niece.

London Free Press/February 5, 2002
By Jonatjam Sher

Henry Hildebrandt, whose church has clashed with authorities in Ontario and California over alleged medical neglect, refused to go to the Aylmer police station last summer to be questioned about his niece, Amanda, who died in her Manitoba home less than two hours after her birth.

Manitoba officials say Amanda's mother, Judy Hildebrandt, went into labour prematurely in June, but she and her husband -- Henry's brother, David -- refused to go to hospital.

The Hildebrandts stayed home even though their midwife insisted they seek medical care, said Johanna Abbott, director of the chief medical examiner's office in Manitoba.

When Judy Hildebrandt began having contractions, her husband called their midwife and asked her to come to their home outside Steinbach. The midwife said it was beyond her skill to assist in a premature birth and told them to go to hospital.

Soon after her birth, it was apparent Amanda was in distress, Abbott said. With their child dying or just after her death, David Hildebrandt reached for the phone, not to call 911 but to call Henry Hildebrandt.

Only later did David Hildebrandt phone 911 and it's not clear if he phoned before or after his daughter's death, Abbott said.

Called in to investigate the death, the RCMP in Manitoba wanted to ask Henry Hildebrandt about the phone call he received from his brother.

Henry Hildebrandt refused to talk.

"He refused to speak to police," said Aylmer Deputy Chief Andre Reymer, whose department was called to help by RCMP.

The pastor's refusal came as the church weathered two controversies that have yet to be resolved.

On July 4, Family and Children Services in Elgin County took away seven children from Aylmer parents over allegations of medical neglect and excessive corporal punishment.

On July 6, a California toddler died of meningitis, a death caused in part by medical neglect, a coroner ruled. Three previous pregnancies ended in miscarriages or stillbirths. Her parents, formerly of Aylmer, were charged with involuntary homicide and wilful cruelty to a child.

The medical examiner in Manitoba ruled Amanda was so ill with infection she'd have almost certainly died, even in a hospital. Her parents, formerly of Aylmer, were not charged and the RCMP case was closed.

But her death raises concerns for a former church member and relatives of church members who say church leaders pressure followers to forgo medical treatment and pray.

David Kauenhowen left the Aylmer-affiliated church a few years ago after leading a Manitoba congregation that includes several families.

Church members typically seek permission from a pastor before they go to a doctor, Kauenhowen said.

David Hildebrandt, contacted by The Free Press, declined comment. Henry Hildebrandt didn't return messages and pages over the weekend.

Henry Hildebrandt's silence also continues in the case against him scheduled to go to trial in April, police say.

The pastor is accused of playing a part in publishing pictures of the children taken in Aylmer on a Web site, a violation of the Child and Family Services Act.

"He's still refusing to talk to us," Reymer said.

The fate of the seven Aylmer children will be determined in a trial scheduled to begin May 27.

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