Monday, October 19

The death of Lucas Leonard and the Evil Inside.

        The news of Lucas Leonard’s brutal death shook our sleepy neighborhood early last week. Texts flew between mothers as we tried to make sense of what had happened, find out where the children were, and what could be done.  In the aftermath we were faced with the horrible reality that the parents of Lucas were charged with beating him to death and also his brother, Chris, who remains hospitalized.  We were all also faced with the absolute shock that Debi Leonard had been involved.

      My thoughts flew back to the last time I’d seen part of the family, while chatting with Debi at the town pool, our boys doing laps, her face lit, smiling, and friendly as always, pausing in our conversation to cheer on her youngest, who successfully dove to the bottom of the deep end to retrieve a dive stick his instructor had thrown in.  He beamed back at her.  Debi handed him a towel and lovingly tousled his wet hair.  That is the way I knew Debi - affectionate, kind to everyone, warm and friendly.  We’d run into each other while our kids swam, played soccer or ice skated together in the winter.

       I tried to make sense of the evil involved and sought counsel from a pastor friend of ours on how to help our children cope with the stomach-sickening evil our community had been handed.  Our oldest daughter walked around in tears over her friend Grace Leonard’s loss and pain, and another one of our children coped by asking endless questions, his mind clearly trying to make sense of the insensible. Our pastor friend explained that when we do not have a clear understanding of the gospel, that is, that Christ has done everything and is everything - our hope, our salvation, our right standing with God - that we are left with despair and hopelessness and have to contrive a holiness or goodness of our own making.  The product of this seems to be the “church” Debi attended, where rules and harshness reigned in an attempt to obtain a holy life.  How I wish Debi and I had conversed about Christianity or church instead of the daily niceties and small talk!

      Our nine year old asked me, ‘Mama, how could she do that when she was such a nice person?”  Debi taught our Ella a crafting class several years ago and left a positive impression with our daughter. Carefully, I explained to her that niceness does not take care of the sin inside each of us.  Neither does hours of Bible reading.  Nor does being a kind person.  I could tell our sweet and sensitive Ella was struggling to make sense of this all.

      “Kindness is like a blanket for sin.  It might cover it up and make things look pretty, but the sin is still there, underneath.  The only thing that completely takes away sin is the death of Jesus on the cross, when He showed His great love for us by taking the punishment for our sin. After He did that, and we trust in Him, we’re left pure and shiny clean, standing before God.  There is nothing else we can do to make Him love us more or less.  All we do is love Him back and the goodness in our hearts then, is out of our love and gratefulness for Jesus.”

      While Ella snuggled in close for another hug, I prayed again for our hurting children and hurting community.  People ask where God was in situations like this.  My answer would be that He was ready to intervene through those who watched the beating and but then did nothing, He was in me when I failed to pick up any hints of the terror in Debi’s life, He was waiting for action in those in the community who knew something was terrible about that building and did nothing.  God didn’t let the Leonard children down; people did.  It is a story and endless scenarios all of those who knew Debi or the children will play over and over in our minds and hearts a thousand times as we try to figure out what we could have done.  In the end, we may have no answers but only confidence that God is good despite of our failings, that this grieves the heart of God, and that He is the only hope. 

I wish I shared that hope with Debi and not assumed she knew it because she said she belonged to a "church".  I wish I could have told her that she was enough, more than enough, in Christ's eyes and that His eyes are filled with love with complete and overwhelming love for her, unbarred by all that she was taught and told she must do to be good enough.  I should have been a better friend.

Edited to add: It is my sincere hope that Debi is, for some reason, taking blame for what she did not do. I think that is everyone's sincere hope, no? Let's pray for truth to reign.


Anonymous said...

I hope I am misunderstanding what you wrote. I hope you are not saying that all people that are not born again Christian are evil, and that if these people had accepted Jesus as their personal savior they would not have done this. This situation is much more complex than that. Being born again does not make a person suddenly make perfect decisions. Sometimes humans do horrific things. This is an example of that and it is not everyone's fault. It is only the fault of the people that committed the terrible act. The community did not fail these children because they were not the responsibility of the community. The parents failed these children.

Me said...

Dear Anonymous,
You are right, being a Christ follower does not make one perfect. My measure of responsibility that I feel is that I never asked Debi about her faith, I only assumed it was okay because she was such a nice person.
The Bible teaches that we all have sin in our lives that seperates us from God and that the only cure for this innate sickness has already been freely given through Christ's sacrifice. You are right - humans do horrific things and Christ followers make mistakes. I don't believe that if these folks had known Jesus that they would have beaten a person made in the image of God to death. The Bible is clear that Christians will be known by the fruit of their lives.
I hope this makes sense but if not, feel free to comment again and I'll see if I can clarify better.

Anonymous said...

This is a different "anonymous". I would just like to say that, and perhaps this is even harder to take, I believe the Leonards and others with them (not necessarily all) are Christians. Full-on born-again Christians. Unfortunately Christians can still commit horrific acts that we can't imagine. I am a Christian. I don't know if it makes you feel better or worse that I believe Debi is a Christian in the sense that you are meaning. I knew them as well and their love for God was sincere. However the stronghold of this evil and the fear it created reigned in their hearts when they had opportunity to act. I believe that anyone is capable of horrific acts when human nature gets in the way of the One who casts out fear. Yes we failed them. But what they chose to do is not our fault.

Me said...

Thank you, second Anonymous :) I appreciate your perspective. The hang up for me in trying to, in my insufficient human mind, judge their salvation is that we are known by our fruits. I am thinking this morning of King David, who left following after God to satisfy his flesh and then allow a man to be slaughtered to cover his sin. Later he repented and God said that he was a man who sought after His heart. A totally different situation though, but, as you said, it shows a perspective of someone knowing God and doing something horrible.

Anonymous said...

Another anonymous. I honestly do not have the words to say anything about the incident as it is so shocking and I did not know any of them personally. But I wanted to comment and say I am praying for your family, community and your children and their friends especially as they try to process this. I cannot do anything else but I can do this. God be with you.

Emmy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

That is why (as a Catholic) I believe that salvation is never assured. We must "work out our salvation in fear and trembling" and "not everyone who cries Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom." History proves that time and time again men have sincerely accepted Christ as their Savior and Redeemer, but have then later chosen to reject Him. We pray for the grace of perseverance. To "fight the good fight" with St. Paul, because how could it be a fight if all we have to do is accept Jesus as our Savior and our salvation is positively assured? May God have mercy on this family, grant them sincere and perfect repentance, and lead them closer to Himself and His truth. And may He bless and guide your family, Hannah.


Me said...

Thanks, Kate, for your perspective. I never realized that the Catholic view was of an uncertain salvation, even with Catholic family and friends. I see salvation as a freely given and freely received gift. This explains it better than I:

"Emmy", I do not have all the answers, but I know that Jesus does. I do, however, have kiddos who need comforting, as do may other Christian parents, which is why we (Sean and I) chose to share how we've talked to them. Following Him, I have trust and peace. I am sorry you are hurting. I can assure you that I am much worse than judgmental and pharisaical without Jesus. I am also glad Jesus does not see me as you do. :) He says I am called, chosen, beloved, and forgive. Wishing you peace in Him,


Unknown said...

If we get to heaven on good works alone then what about the thief who was hung on the cross. The thief was a wicked man his whole life but he was truly sorry and repented. He accepted the lord and now has a home in heaven! What good work did he do? Nothing! It's right there in the book! If we all trusted on good works we would all be in hell. Our works are low to the lord no matter how great we think we are. Cause really you aren't as great as you think you are. The Leonard family though may be sweet and kind loving parents on the outside are false Christians. After I became saved and said a simple prayer to my God and truly meant it I knew I wanted to please him and do right. i have a hard time thinking someone who truly loves the lord will brutally violently murder his child or even beat him like they did for hours! I would be one scared chick and fear the wrath of God if I were them! she may have been the sweetest lady out there but it just shows the demon lives inside church goers too. :/ the whole thing is horrible and my heart literally aches on how a mother could hurt her precious boys!

Kate said...

Hello Hannah and louder462!

Firstly, Hannah, thank you for the link. I agree completely with the interpretation of "fear and trembling." God is our loving Father with an especial emphasis on loving. He does not want us to be fearful, anxious children! I was meaning to emphasize the words "work out our salvation," in my first comment, not the "fear and trembling" part. In the article to which you linked, they defined them well also:

First, the Greek verb rendered “work out” means "to continually work to bring something to completion or fruition."

I believe that salvation is not complete or brought to fruition until one is in heaven. It is a free gift, but there are conditions that must be met, as I think you would agree. I would try to go into a greater explanation, but I don't really have the time at the moment, ( I need to get my three littlest down for their naps ~I am sure you understand how that goes~ and typing one-handed while feeding the baby!:) If you are at all interested, I would like to give you the link to a page which explains very nicely what Catholic teaching is on this subject(along with many quotes from the bible, at the bottom of the page, that support it):

louder462, I agree completely that we cannot get to heaven on good works alone! Would you consider following the link above? As I mentioned to Hannah, it explains very well, what I believe as a Catholic.
The story of the Good Thief is so very beautiful, and is one of my favorites. He is actually known as St. Dismas in the Catholic Church, and has a special feast day (March 25th) on which we honor him ever year and remember his wonderful story with friends and family.

May God bless you both!


Kate said...


I was thinking about my original comment and realized that "never assured" was a poor choice of words on my part. What I meant was that I cannot say today with certainty that I will go to heaven. I hope I will. And I believe without a doubt that if I meet all of the conditions that are necessary to salvation that I will. Christ has assured us of this. But I do have a free will, I must keep choosing to do all that is necessary. I could choose to turn my back on God some time in the future ( I hope and pray I never will!),but it would not mean I didn't accept or even love Him in the beginning. I hope this makes sense!


Anonymous said...

I never understand this kinda thing.. I just within myself my "momma bear " instinct towards my kids would supercede anything anyone told me to do no matter how strong my faith is.. I think the lord would tell me to go with my gut and my maternal instincts than to trust what someone else tells me to do. That even being my spouse or leader in my chosen faith...if a mother and father are not there to protect their child what does that child have ??..
I don't know.I just pray for the son that is still here and for the precious one that is with his lord now...

sue in NJ

Annie said...

Hi Hannah,

I'm also Catholic, and also a little confused. I too believe salvation is uncertain, not because it isn't freely given and freely received -- all of that is true. But because we chose the Lord in all our acts, or we chose to turn from Him. We do this day in and day out. And we repent, and pick ourselves back up. All sin is forgivable.

It's also not about accumulating good works and thereby earning salvation (@lowder462)-- salvation is not merited or earned by anyone. This is a big misunderstanding.

The reason we Catholics believe that salvation isn't guaranteed is for exactly the reason we see in this terrible story: You can accept Christ in our heart... and then at a later time, turn horrifically from him. We call this mortal sin - a sin so grave that we are saying to our Lord - I don't want you in my heart. (To be guilty of such a sin we must understand it to be grave, we must freely chose it, and a third criteria I can't remember.) But yes, indeed, *we remain free to reject Christ until death*. This is the other side of salvation being free :/

And again, all sin is forgivable - all we need to do is repent and ask the Lord back in our hearts.

So, I think the difference -- and I don't know if I realized this about Protestants before -- is NOT that Catholics think you earn salvation. It's that we believe we remain "free" to reject it until death. The good works confusion is no different than what Hannah refers to as fruits -- if you say you believe, but murder and rape and pillage, you do not actually have faith.

We differ in that Catholics believe you could, at a prior time, have made a profession of faith; it sounds like Protestants, or at least you Hannah and your family, believe that to do such things means you couldn't have REALL been Christian to begin with -- am I understanding? And does my explanation of what Catholics believe make any sense?

Sara said...

I choose to believe that no mother would participate in something like this without in some way (initially) believing it was for the good of her child. I, too, knew Debi Leonard through a homeschooling group of which I was a part. She was kind and a devoted mother and seemed dedicated to serving her community.

I believe she most likely went along with the initial plan for the session out of fear for her son's spiritual well-being. I believe she felt he was straying and she worried about the impact that would have on his life. I believe that she allowed her husband to have more power than her in their relationship and that she had devout faith in her church leaders and their teachings and (mis)interpretation of the Bible.

I believe that the beating got out of hand and that Debi was outranked. And I believe she went to the same psychological place that soldiers go when they originally believed in the cause they were sent to war for but then find themselves witnessing extreme violence and civilian torture and rape and then eventually begin participating in it . . . the mentality where you went in with a group, fighting for what you believed was right and then at some point it all went too far and others involved were evil and those who were not had already consented to the beginning part and then in those terrible moments they find themselves in the middle of a very complex mental struggle with no mental resources to handle it.

I think she must have had a mental breakdown in the moment and been crippled by fear of a whole lot of different things.

I don't know how she got to the point where she could allow that to happen to her son, but I know that her process of getting there started long before the day of that tragic incident. When I try to have empathy, I simply can't because I can't imagine doing anything in that situation other than throwing my body over my child. But, then, maybe the answer's right there: that love I feel for my children and the horror of imagining not saving them is so painful as we even reflect on this situation - and she went through it. To do something like this, that mother must have been hurting tremendously in a way so terrible that none of us can even imagine it. I'm not saying that excuses her, but it is not my place to Forgive anyway. I just think it is useful to acknowledge the amount of pain she must have been feeling and that we don't understand the complexities of the situation. And, of course, to be comforted that there is One that does.

There was certainly evil working in that building and amongst the poor people involved. That evil had to start small and grow. She must have been unable to see the evil until it was too late. Let us all pray that we will be able to spot and turn our backs on the evils in our own lives.