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Autistic boy's death at church ruled homicide

Child was suffocated, autopsy report says

Terrance Cottrell died Friday during a faith healing service.
Terrance Cottrell died Friday during a faith healing service.

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CNN's Jeff Flock reports the death of an 8-year-old autistic boy during a prayer service has been ruled a homicide.
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MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin (CNN) -- An 8-year-old autistic boy who died at a prayer service where church members tried to heal him of "spirits" was suffocated, the medical examiner's office said Monday.

Terrance Cottrell went to a prayer service Friday with his mother, who prayed over him with a pastor and other church members. By the time the two-hour service was over, Terrance was dead.

The official cause of death is mechanical asphyxia due to external chest compression, meaning Terrance was suffocated. The death has been ruled a homicide.

The church is in a run-down strip mall in northern Milwaukee, with the sign for the former tenant -- a bar -- still posted above its door. A poster on the door says the Faith Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith has services every Sunday.

Ray Hemphill -- a pastor at the storefront church and the brother of head Pastor David Hemphill -- was arrested early Saturday on suspicion of child abuse and is awaiting formal charges, authorities said. Ray Hemphill led Friday's prayer service, his brother said.

David Hemphill told CNN that Terrance and his mother had been attending the church for about three months.

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

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

David 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. An adult called 911, but when emergency services arrived around 11 p.m., the boy was dead, David Hemphill said.

A neighbor described Terrance's mother as a zealous church convert who once said the evil spirit had spoken through her son at the church.

"She said he said, 'Kill me, take me, kill me,'" neighbor Denise Allison said. "I was like, are you serious? I couldn't really believe that."

Asked whether church members could have confused Terrance's autism with evil spirits, David Hemphill said no.

"It wasn't confused," he told CNN. "I know what I'm talking about."

Hemphill said Terrance "had spirits in him," and church members simply asked God to "deliver him."

This past Sunday, services were held at David Hemphill's home, where he said members consoled each other about the boy's death. Hemphill said they haven't yet decided when services will return to the church.

CNN correspondent Jeff Flock contributed to this report.


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