Couple sentenced to 10 years in daughter’s faith healing death

An Albany, Oregon couple who believes in faith healing were sentenced to 10 years in prison on Friday in the death of Syble Rossiter, their 12-year-old daughter.

The girl died of diabetes complications in February 2013 after her parents withheld treatment in favor of prayer.

Travis and Wenona Rossiter, who still have two minor children, belong to the Church of the First Born — part of an informally organized religious denomination which embraces an extreme, unbiblical view of faith healing.

At their trial, the couple claimed they thought their daughter — who went through severe weight loss and appeared emaciated before she died — merely had the flu.

Last November a jury found both Wenona and Travis Rossiter guilty of manslaughter in the first and second degree.

Church of the First Born

Since 1976, at least 82 children linked to the Church of the First Born have died from a lack of medical treatment, says Child Healthcare is a Legal Duty — an organization that lobbies against state laws that protect parents who choose faith healing over modern medicine.


The unnecessary deaths have resulted in a number of criminal prosecutions.

The church says it does allow members to seek medical aid, but former members explain that those who do so tend to be shunned. Seeking medical aid is considered to be a sign of ‘weak faith’ or even sinning against God by not trusting him for healing.

Followers believe that if someone they prayed for does die, it was God’s will.

When district attorney Keith Stein asked Wenona Rossiter, “Do you believe that it was God’s will for Syble to die?,” she replied, “Yes.”

Oregon Law Regarding Faith Healing

Largely in response to a series of preventable ‘faith-healing’ deaths at a similar denomination, Followers of Christ Church, the Oregon legislature changed the law regarding faith healing.

House Bill 2721, which went into law June 9, 2011, allows parents to treat their children through prayer as long as they do not have life-threatening conditions. However, it eliminates reliance on spiritual treatment as defense to certain crimes in which the victim is under 18 years of age. Effectively it means a reliance on faith healing can no longer be used as a defense against manslaughter charges.

After the sentencing, Mark Heslinga, Wenona Rossiter’s counsel, told the press that the judge did not want to apply the 10-year prison sentence, but that he felt constrained by Measure 11, Oregon’s mandatory minimum sentencing law.

Tim Felling, Travis Rossiter’s attorney, said the sentence would be appealed.

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This post was last updated: Dec. 16, 2016