A couple who belong to the faith-healing Followers of Christ Church in Oregon were charged on Monday with the murder of their daughter and booked into the Clackamas County Jail.
Following a week of grand jury testimony, 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 The Oregonian.
A church elder contacted the county medical examiner’s office to report the death, but none of the family or church members present called 911 when Gennifer developed breathing problems.
After the death of Gennifer was reported, her twin sister Evelyn was taken to the OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital for treatment.
An autopsy revealed Gennifer died from complications after her premature birth, including lung problems that resulted in a lack of oxygen getting into her bloodstream.
“Child deaths have plagued the church for years,” The Oregonian recounted. “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, they believe.”
It was the church’s pattern of child deaths that prompted the Oregon Legislature to remove spiratual treatment as a defense for homicide charges.
Before the filing of murder charges, KOIN News reported past deaths of children by members of the Followers of Christ Church.
Sarah Mitchell’s sister and brother-in-law, Shannon and Dale Hickman, are currently serving prison sentences for the 2009 death of their infant son.
“Sarah and Shannon’s father, Walter Matthew White, is believed to be a direct descendant of Walter White, the founder of the Followers of Christ Church congregation,” KOIN reported.
Watch past members of the Followers of Christ Church talk about practices that result in child abuse: