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Autistic boy dies at faith healing service

Police: Pastor's brother held on suspicion of child abuse

Faith Temple is a six-family church in this strip mall in north Milwaukee.
Faith Temple is a six-family church in this strip mall in north Milwaukee.

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Wisconsin police are investigating the death of an autistic 8-year-old boy during a prayer service at a Milwaukee church. WISN's John Atwater reports (August 25)
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(CNN) -- An 8-year-old autistic boy died during a prayer service at a Milwaukee church that the pastor said was meant to heal him of "spirits," and the pastor's brother is facing child abuse charges, police said Sunday.

The incident happened late Friday at Faith Temple, a six-family church in a strip mall in north Milwaukee, Pastor David Hemphill said.

The boy, whom Hemphill identified as Terrance Cottrell, was at the church with his mother, he said. Hemphill's brother, Ray Hemphill, and two women from the church also were present, he said.

The adults formed a circle around the boy and placed their hands lightly over him as they prayed for him, Hemphill said.

"[They] were just praying for him and asking God to deliver him from the spirit that he had," Hemphill said. "The little boy had spirits in him, and we was asking God to deliver him."

Hemphill said the prayers were in accordance with Matthew 12:43, which says, "When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it."

At the end of the prayers, one of the women noticed that Terrance was not breathing. One of the adults called 911, but when emergency services arrived around 11 p.m., the boy was dead, Hemphill said.

Milwaukee Police Capt. Linda Haynes said an autopsy was being conducted. Police are investigating whether the boy had been restrained or hurt in some way.

"We don't know of any kind of medical issues that he had that would have caused this death," Haynes told CNN. "His mother didn't say that he had any kind of medical issues. It's really odd for someone that young to just die."

Hemphill said Terrance was not restrained. He was seated in the center of the group with his hands under a sheet "because he had started scratching," Hemphill said, but the sheet was only lightly placed over him and was not tied.

"Nobody wants to see nobody pass away, because we love the child," he said.

Police arrested Ray Hemphill on suspicion of child abuse, Haynes said.

"From his statement and from our investigation, it was determined that there was probable cause that he had committed physical abuse of a child," she said, without elaborating.

He was in the Milwaukee County Jail on Sunday evening awaiting formal charges, Deputy Jeanne Brown of the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department said.

David Hemphill said Terrance and his mother have been members of the small church about three months. The boy's father did not come to services.

The church has been operating since 1977, Hemphill said, and has been in its current location for about three years. Regular Sunday services were moved from the church to Hemphill's house because of the death.

"We just consoled one another today," he said.


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