A California megachurch elder and her father have been charged with the torture and murder of her 11-year-old daughter.
Leticia McCormack, 49, and her father Stanley Tom, 75, pleaded not guilty when they appeared in California Superior Court in the San Diego suburb of El Cajon on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.
The couple, and Mr Tom’s wife Adella Tom, 70, also face cruelty and torture charges in connection with the death of Arabella, 11, and the treatment of two younger siblings, aged 6 and 7.
The San Diego Sheriff’s Department said in a statement that they responded to reports of a child in danger at a home in the 3300 block of Lakeview Drive in Spring Valley just before 2 a.m. on Aug. 30.
Arabella, who had bruises and signs of malnutrition, was rushed to the hospital where her condition worsened and she died, the sheriff’s office said.
Sheriff’s deputies contacted Arabella’s father, Brian McCormack, a Border Patrol agent, who shot himself in front of officers at the home, the statement said.
According to the San Diego Union Tribune, the couple became foster parents to the three girls in 2017, before adopting them two years later.
The girls’ biological mother Torriana Florey told theUnion Tribune outside court Wednesday that she lost custody of her three daughters because of a “domestic violence dispute” with their father.
“I couldn’t be the mom the courts wanted me to be because I was learning,” Ms Florey said.
They were homeschooled by their foster parents, he said.
The younger siblings have been placed in foster care.
Ms. McCormack was a volunteer at the Rock Church in San Diego, a megachurch founded by former NFL player Miles McPherson, according to the Associated Press.
During a decade with the megachurch, he taught “Kingdom Life Encounter” meetings that coached churchgoers on how to shape their lives after Jesus.
In a statement, the church said it had cut ties with Ms McCormack.
“We continue to grieve for Arabella and her sisters. We are so sorry that their family and friends are experiencing this unimaginable loss and pain,” the church said in a statement.
“The legal process will proceed and we hope justice will be served for Arabella and her sisters. We pray that God’s love and grace will bring comfort and healing.”
Ms. McCormack was ordained an elder in another church called the Assemblies of God.
The ordination was moved to Rock Church in January 2022 and is in the process of being revoked, the Associated Press reported.