A church laid waste by its pastor’s bizarre behavior.
June 6 issue – Louis Lamonica walked into the sheriff’s department in tiny Livingston, La., a few weeks ago and asked to speak with a detective. According to police, for almost the next two hours the middle-aged preacher, dressed casually in a green polo shirt and green slacks, proceeded to tell a story so sickening they could scarcely believe what they were hearing. He explained that he was the former pastor of Hosanna Church, a now defunct house of worship in nearby Ponchatoula. Matter-of-factly and without remorse, Lamonica said that he and other church members had molested children, and taught them to have sex with each other, as well as with a dog. He told the detectives that he drank cat blood, and poured it on the bodies of his young victims, according to Ponchatoula Police Chief David Vitter.
When he had finished talking, Lamonica was arrested by the stunned detectives, who charged him with two counts of aggravated rape of a child under 13 and a charge of crime against nature. According to police, Lamonica was confused by the cops’ reaction. “He was somewhat shocked when he found out we were going to arrest him,” Detective Stan Carpenter told NEWSWEEK.
It’s not yet clear why Lamonica voluntarily chose to tell his story to the police. (His lawyer, Michael Thiel, says his client is “absolutely not guilty,” adding, “the credibility of any statements allegedly given by my client has to certainly be questioned.”) After Lamonica’s confession, authorities arrested eight other members of the Hosanna Church congregation, including Lamonica’s wife, Robbin, and a Tangipahoa Parish sheriff’s deputy. Police say that church members abused as many as two dozen children, one only a year old, beginning in 1999, in rituals that they say may be tied to devil worship. All but one suspect remained in jail last week. Chief Public Defender Reggie McIntyre, who’s handling the cases pending their assignment to separate counsel, expects they will plead not guilty.
Press accounts have said the investigation began on a tip from Nicole Bernard, a former congregant who called Louisiana police from Ohio about six weeks ago to report that a child had been sexually abused by Hosanna Church members. But Vitter told NEWSWEEK that local authorities had already opened a probe after Lamonica’s eldest son, then 18, told his school counselor that his father had sexually abused him. (Bernard has been charged with raping a child under 13. Her lawyer, Eric Pittman, who was recently assigned the case, did not return calls seeking comment.)
The Hosanna Church was built by Lamonica’s father, Louis Lamonica Sr., a well-respected preacher who drew more than 1,000 worshipers. After his death, his son Louis Jr. took over in the early ’90s. But the young pastor who had been so eager for the job soon grew surly, and his anger drove away most of the congregants. He ultimately suffered a nervous breakdown, his sister, Liz Lamonica Roberts, told The New Orleans Times-Picayune, which his lawyer says he’s looking into as part of his defense.
Neighbors of the church said that at night they sometimes heard strange noises coming from the building. They never imagined the horror Lamonica described could have been taking place inside.