A religious Oregon couple didn’t believe in medical care. After newborn’s death, they’re headed to prison.

By Kyle Swenson

The deputy medical examiner knew before knocking on the door. There was a grim scene waiting for Eric Tonsfeldt inside the single-story house set among the pine trees outside of Oregon City, Ore. — a tragedy that had played out there before.

It was around 8:45 on March 5, 2017, and the Clackamas County official was responding to a report of a dead newborn.

The child had not been delivered in a hospital. She wasn’t attended to by doctors and nurses. The baby died amid the murmured prayers of friends and family. But Tonsfeldt knew — as everyone else in the county and many beyond all the way up to the state legislature — that this was a familiar occurrence with members of the Followers of Christ Church, a faith-healing sect numbering around 1,000 members.

Tonsfeldt found the newborn’s mother, Sarah Elaine Mitchell, in the master bedroom cradling the dead child in a blanket. As the official later recounted in a probable cause affidavit obtained by KGW8, the child’s father, Travis Lee Mitchell, was also in the room, as was Sarah’s father, Walter White. Tonsfeldt would say that when he questioned the individuals in the room about the death, the answers were “stilted and forced.” No one would make eye contact. Eventually, he learned the baby — Ginnifer — had been born around 2:55 p.m. Hours later, the baby stopped breathing, dying around 7 p.m. As Tonsfeldt examined the child, he noted Ginnifer was 3 pounds, 6 ounces. The baby had been born prematurely at 32 weeks.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Even if someone’s loony faith makes them initially think that god will always heal all ills it’s rather baffling to hang on to that belief after dozens of children in the same cult end up dead.

  2. Glad to see the law finally taking effect, but what the fuck is up with these parents? Laws or no laws, if I was a member of this church and had a sick kid, I’d be looking around at the number of children’s graves in the cemetery. I’d be saying to myself, “yeah…Joe and Stacy had a sick baby; they prayed and the baby died. Fred and Hanna’s daughter Susie had eye problems; they prayed over her and now she’s completely blind. Jeremy and Michelle’s kid had diabetes; they prayed over him and now he’s in a coma. Ya know…come to think of it – I don’t recall a single instance where God answered anyone’s prayers for their child. I don’t think he’s into child health and safety; I think I’ll give modern medicine a shake.”

    I mean, seriously – haven’t any of these parents ever noticed that none of their prayers – ever! – are answered? Doesn’t the number of child graves give them the least little pause in what passes for their thoughts? Jesus Jumped-up Jiminy Christ.

  3. If I were a legislator I’d require all adherents of such faiths to go on a list, be told they are at risk of imprisonment as negligent parents if they do not bring children in regularly for health checks at their own expense and report all new symptoms immediately on a 24 hour open line.

    Maybe the children are taken into care and the parents appointed as state guardians.

    God isn’t going to blame them if health checks are a mandated legal requirement. When grown up they can dice with their own death but never with a state protected one.

    Any secretly rational parents when interviewed alone should be grateful. Any who isn’t will need additional surveillance.

  4. There’s always a way these nutters explain it away. They didn’t pray hard enough. They’d been bad so god didn’t answer. Jesus wanted a new angel in heaven so much he just let their kid die. If their car only started once in a blue moon they’d figure it had a fault but when their god only answers once in a blue moon they never think their faith in him might be faulty.

  5. I read the book Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover. She grew up in a community like the one described in the article above. In Educated, Westover describes a childhood and teens of brutal hard work, no medical care, no education, a bipolar father, abusive brothers and a weak checked out mom. I don’t know how she’s still alive never mind her getting to Oxford and Harvard!

    Her family and community were absolutely paranoid about the gov’mint coming after them and accumulated an arsenal in preparation for the event. They often never registered the births of their children specifically to evade interaction with the government and this made it difficult for the kids to register themselves in school when they got older and wanted to give it a try. Some kids weren’t sure how old they actually were. This will present serious challenges to a program to monitor the kids welfare. It will take a minor army of intrepid social workers mucking around in hostile territory to implement Phil’s plan.

    Phil’s plan in #3 is exactly what’s wanted here but how many of these American primitives are we dealing with? They are spread out over several states in some rugged territory and armed to the teeth. There’s no doubt that this is abuse. I have an ominous feeling of a civil war bearing down upon us here.

    Check out the latest pardon by President shit-for-brains:

    https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/10/politics/hammonds-trump-pardon/index.html

    This pardon is a high profile gesture to the kind of people described in the article above.

  6. So sad. Belief is the problem, millions of people die of it. Not only religion, war or crime. Famine devastated Russia in the twenties and thirties and China in the fifties and sixties, because the Party had a sincere belief in the collectivisation of agriculture. Thirty thousand Americans a year are killed in the US because a large section of the population believe in the sanctity and misinterpretation of a document written two hundred odd years ago, for a frontier country where armaments were single shot and took a couple of minutes to reload. Far, far more people are killed by belief than are killed by greed, mental illness and violent crime. Don’t believe in anything.

  7. eejit #6
    Jul 11, 2018 at 4:43 am

    So sad. Belief is the problem, millions of people die of it.

    Thirty thousand Americans a year are killed in the US because
    a large section of the population believe in the sanctity and misinterpretation
    of a document written two hundred odd years ago, for a frontier country
    where armaments were single shot and took a couple of minutes to reload.

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-44772682

    A two-year-old boy in Houston has died after shooting himself in the head with an unsecured gun that he found inside his home, according to Texas police.

    Several US children accidentally shot and killed themselves in recent days.

    Yep!
    It’s not just children in need of medical treatment, who are killed by nutty beliefs!

  8. @OP – After newborn’s death, they’re headed to prison.

    This sounds very much like American administration approach!

    that this was a familiar occurrence with members of the Followers of Christ Church, a faith-healing sect numbering around 1,000 members.

    No pre-emptive action up-front, against the “behind the scenes” organisation responsible, but prison for the front-line. deluded indoctrinated perpetrators, after a calamity has surfaced and happened!

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