Church leaders charged in death; Abuse killed son, prosecutors think

Relates to:
Date: 2003-01-01

Kansas City Star, The (MO)
Author: MARK WIEBE
DONNA McGUIRE; The Kansas City Star

The leaders of a Kansas City, Kan., storefront church were charged Tuesday with murdering their adopted 9-year-old son and with abusing three other adopted children.

On Tuesday, the pastors of God's Creation Outreach Ministry, Neil E. Edgar, 47, and Christy Y. Edgar, 46, were charged with the felony murder of Brian Edgar.

The Edgars also were charged with three counts each of felony child abuse involving the other three children, who are siblings. Brian was not related to them by blood.

The parents were in jail Tuesday; bond was set at $2 million each.

At a news conference, Wyandotte County District Attorney Nick Tomasic alleged that Brian and his siblings - boys 16 and 12 and a 9-year-old girl - were frequent victims of abuse that involved binding and gagging before bedtime. Authorities said the three children were in protective custody.

Tomasic said that Brian, who was homeschooled, died late Sunday at a house on North 82nd Terrace, near State Avenue. Early Monday morning, police said, Neil Edgar brought Brian's body to KU Med. Police then took Neil Edgar into custody.

Wyandotte County Coroner Alan Hancock said in an interview that Brian's mouth had been taped shut and that something like a sock had been stuffed in it. He said there were signs that Brian had vomited and that he had been bound around the chest with a belt. The boy died of asphyxiation, Hancock said.

"This is about as bad (a case of child abuse) as any of them," Hancock said.

The autopsy, he added, showed that Brian had been dead for several hours before being brought to the hospital. The autopsy also found bruises on his cheeks and old marks on his wrists and ankles, suggesting he probably had been bound with a rope in the past.

Tomasic said that the practice of strict physical discipline "is a teaching of the church" and that the case could yield more charges.

Late Tuesday afternoon, police executed a search warrant on the church, 817 Central Ave., and adjacent addresses.

Tomasic recalled that a member of the church had been convicted a few years ago of using a stun gun against a child. Neil Edgar had been called as a witness, Tomasic said.

A Web site describes the church's ministry as one that helps young people find jobs and teaches them to be independent and responsible for their own actions. It also says the ministry aims to help young people develop "a better self-esteem to overcome serious emotional and educational problems."

It's unclear how many members the church has. According to records with the Kansas secretary of state, Christy Edgar incorporated the ministry in April 1992. The church forfeited its corporation status in September 2000 after failing to file an annual report.

The church's two-story building on Central Avenue projects an image of loving ministry. Its name hangs on a heart-shaped sign above the front door. A red awning above a side door says, "Smile, God loves you." Painted on the wall next to the door is a red and sky-blue mural of larger-than-life praying hands. A red neon "Jesus" sign shines above.

On Tuesday afternoon, no one answered the door at the house on 82nd Terrace, which county records show the Edgars have owned since the 1980s.

Although a car was parked in the driveway and six bags of leaves stood at the curb, neighbors said that the Edgars had not lived there for at least six months.

Patricia Gaines, who lives across the street, has concerns because her 26-year-old daughter, Sarah, married an older son of the Edgars a few years ago. She sees her daughter infrequently now, she said.

Gaines said it wasn't uncommon for church members to take up temporary residence at the Edgar home.

Another neighbor, Pearl Pace, said the Edgars had moved more than a year ago and that she wasn't aware of the three younger children.

Pace, a pastor at New Jerusalem Baptist Temple in Kansas City, Kan., said she couldn't believe the Edgars had been arrested. They were "wonderful pastors," she said, "very helpful in the community. Great people."

Details of the adoptions were sketchy.

All state records involving Brian, including his time spent in foster care and reason for being there, are closed to the public, said Roberta Sue McKenna, assistant director for foster care and adoption with the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.

"It's devastating," McKenna said of Brian's death. "We want happy endings for our children. They come to us with already sad stories. We don't want to add to it."

McKenna would not say whether the department had received any hot-line calls involving the Edgars since Brian's adoption. That information also is closed to the public by law, she said.

Brian's adoption was finalized in June 2000, said a spokeswoman for Kansas Children's Service League, which began overseeing adoption services for the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services in July 2000.

Lutheran Social Service of Kansas and Oklahoma was the contractor for Kansas adoption services when Brian's adoption took place.

State adoption procedures call for the contracting agency to check the references of prospective parents, interview the family and visit the home several times. Also, adoptive parents must complete training sessions.

One training topic would have been how to appropriately discipline children, including the fact that corporal punishment is not effective for children who may have a history of abuse or neglect, McKenna said. In addition to these steps, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation would have completed a state criminal background check, McKenna said.

- To reach Mark Wiebe, call (816) 234-5995 or send e-mail to mwiebe@kcstar.com.

- To reach Donna McGuire, call (816) 234-4393 or send e-mail to dmcguire@kcstar.com

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