MILWAUKEE (AP)–An autistic 8-year-old boy died while being restrained during a church prayer service held in an attempt to cure him, and one man connected with the small storefront church was arrested, police and a church official said Sunday.
The boy’s mother took him to the Faith Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith for the prayer service Friday night. Several church members prayed over him for more than an hour until someone noticed he wasn’t moving and called 911, said Bishop David Hemphill Sr.
Hemphill said the boy and his mother had been going to the prayer services for the past three weeks. Members of the church, made up of just six families, prayed for God to release the evil spirits that cause the boy’s illness, he said.
“The boy just had a problem in his mind, and what we were doing was asking God to fix it,” Hemphill said. “He chose to fix it by taking him back home to him.”
“All I know is we’re not guilty of anything,” he said.
Church members wrapped the boy in sheets to keep him from scratching himself and others, but the boy was allowed to sit “any way that he feels comfortable,” Hemphill said.
Police would not say what the man could be charged with, only that they were awaiting the results of an autopsy.
“If he died, which I highly doubt, of some natural cause, he won’t be charged with anything too serious,” said police Capt. Linda Haynes. She said she did not believe the boy had been struck during the service.
Police would not identify the man who was arrested, but Hemphill said it was his brother, Ray Hemphill, another minister at the church.
Police also did not release the boy’s name, but David Hemphill identified him as Torrance Cantrell.
The church is not connected to any larger denomination and has only six families that gather twice a week to pray and discuss Scripture, Hemphill said.
“We believe that according to the word of God, a person could get evil spiritedness,” he said. “Either God’s going to have to deliver, or we’re going to have to do whatever we can until things get better.”
The church’s main window was boarded up Sunday, as were those of several businesses that neighbor it in a run-down strip mall on the city’s northwest corner.