Oregon faith healing couple charged in son’s death

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A couple in Creswell, Oregon has been arrested in connection with the December death of their 16-year-old son, because they failed to provide adequate medical care, police said.

KVAL reports

Authorities arrested the mother and stepfather, Brandi Shaunai Bellew, 36, and Russel Bellew, 39, for the death of Austin Lewis Sprout.

Sprout, a 16-year-old junior at Creswell High School, died in his home five days before Christmas after being ill for more than a week.

Now his parents are facing charges of second degree manslaughter, after authorities said they failed to get medical care for their son because of their religious beliefs.

Sprout’s family is affiliated with a church called the General Assembly Church of the First Born in Pleasant Hill. This church is known for their beliefs in faith healing.


The sheriff did not say what exactly caused Sprout’s death, only that medical professionals indicated the condition was highly treatable.

The arrest comes just one day after parents in Carlton, WA — who police say unsuccessfully tried to faith-heal their son back to health — were charged with second-degree murder. These parents also are members of The Church of the First Born.

The Register-Guard says

Lane County sheriff’s deputies arrested Brandi Shaunai Bellew and Russel Lewis Bellew of Creswell on Friday following a seven-week investigation that began with the death of 16-year-old Austin Sprout on Dec. 20.

Their case could test a new state law that eliminates the legal defense of “faith healing” for parents who refuse medical care for a sick child. The Bellews belong to the General Assembly and the Church of the First Born, which has been linked to a number of deaths related to healing by prayer. […]

Under state law, the charge of second-degree manslaughter is defined in part as causing a dependent person’s death by neglect or maltreatment, including failure to provide adequate medical care.

“Our opinion is that if (the Bellews) would have taken (Sprout) to a doctor to seek medical attention, he would have survived,” Slater said.

Sheriff’s detectives have investigated two other relatively recent deaths involving Sprout’s family, Slater said.

They include the 2007 death of Sprout’s biological father, Brian Sprout. According to an obituary submitted by the family, Brian Sprout died at age 35 of sepsis related to a complication from a leg injury. Investigators found that Brian Sprout had not sought medical treatment before he died, but that didn’t constitute a crime because he was an adult, Slater said.

The second case investigated by the sheriff’s office arose in October 2010, when Austin Sprout’s grandmother, Mary Sprout of Creswell, died of what were initially described as unknown causes. Her death certificate states that investigators later learned that she died at age 54 of acute myeloid leukemia, a relatively common cancer that is curable, according to the National Institutes of Health.

In June, 2011, the governor of Oregon signed into law House Bill 2721, which “Eliminates reliance on spiritual treatment as defense to certain crimes in which victim is under 18 years of age.”

The bill had been introduced in response to the ongoing series of preventable deaths in another ‘faith healing’ congregation, the Followers of Christ church.

House Bill 2721 “Eliminates reliance on spiritual treatment as defense to certain crimes in which victim is under 18 years of age” [Full text PDF file] Signed into law, June 9, 2011
Research resources on faith healing
Online book: Churches That Abuse

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This post was last updated: Dec. 16, 2016