Mar 12, 2017

Investigation begun in death of baby born to Followers of Christ Church members

Followers of Christ Church
Followers of Christ Church
Jim Ryan
The Oregonian/OregonLive
March 09, 2017

The Clackamas County Sheriff's Office is investigating the death of a baby born to members of a church that spurns traditional medical treatment and whose members have been convicted in previous child deaths.

The girl was one of two born Sunday to Sarah and Travis Lee Mitchell, who are members of Oregon City's faith-healing Followers of Christ Church, the sheriff's office said in a news release. The surviving girl was admitted into OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit, deputies said.

Previous cases

In four recent cases, parents from Oregon City's Followers of Christ church were held criminally responsible for failing to provide medical care for their children.

Dale and Shannon Hickman: The Hickmans, who are related to Sarah and Travis Lee Mitchell, received the mandatory minimum prison term under Measure 11 sentencing guidelines for failing to seek medical care for their son, who was born two months prematurely in 2009 and lived less than nine hours. An autopsy found he had staph pneumonia and underdeveloped lungs.

Raylene and Carl Brent Worthington: Fifteen-month-old Ava Worthington died in 2008 at her parents' home of bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection. Her parents conducted faith-healing rituals but never sought medical treatment. Carl Worthington was convicted of misdemeanor criminal mistreatment and sentenced to two months in jail. Raylene Worthington was acquitted on all charges.

Jeffrey and Marci Beagley: 15-year-old Neil Beagley, brother of Raylene Worthington, became ill from a urinary tract blockage and died two weeks later in June 2008. The Beagleys said they followed their son's wishes in treating him only with prayer and faith healing. Both parents were convicted of criminally negligent homicide and sentenced to 16 months in prison.

Timothy and Rebecca Wyland: As an infant, Alayna Wyland developed an abnormal mass of blood vessels that grew across her face and engulfed her left eye. Child protection authorities took custody, and Alayna improved under court-ordered care. The Wylands were convicted of first-degree criminal mistreatment and sentenced in 2011 to 90 days in jail.

-- The Oregonian/OregonLive

Sarah Mitchell's sister and brother-in-law were sentenced in 2011 to more than six years in prison in the death of their newborn son, who died less than nine hours after he was born in 2009.

Sarah Mitchell, 24, delivered the girls Sunday afternoon at her parents' home on South Loder Road in Oregon City.

The second newborn developed apparent breathing problems and died in the home a few hours later, deputies said.

None of the midwives or family and church members who witnessed the birth called 911, according to the sheriff's office. The agency said a church elder contacted the county medical examiner's office to report the death.

The medical examiner determined the surviving newborn required medical treatment and called law enforcement officers to the home. The officers persuaded the Mitchells to pursue professional medical treatment for the surviving infant, who they believe was born several weeks premature.

The medical examiner's office finished its autopsy of the dead infant Monday but is still investigating her cause of death, deputies said.

Detectives will give the results of the sheriff's office's investigation to the county district attorney's office, which will consider charges.

The church doesn't have formal leadership and isn't connected to any mainstream denomination, according to a 2009 Oregonian/OregonLive report. Its origins are in the late 19th century's faith-healing Pentecostal movement, according to the report.

Detectives ask anyone who has information about the newborn's death to call the sheriff's office tip line, 503-723-4949, or fill out an online form. Tipsters should reference case No. 17-6024.

-- Jim Ryan
503-221-8005; @Jimryan015

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