MILWAUKEE — An autistic 8-year-old boy died in a homicide by suffocation during a prayer service in which church members wrapped the boy in sheets as they tried to exorcise evil spirits, the medical examiner’s office said Monday.
Terrance Cottrell Jr. died because his chest was somehow restricted and could not expand, according to a statement issued by the office of the Milwaukee County coroner.
“Air was not able to get in or out,” said Eileen Weller, the office’s administrative manager.
Weller declined to release further details, saying police were still investigating the death.
A man has been arrested in connection with the death, which occurred Friday night at a church in a run-down strip mall. Authorities have not identified him or disclosed what charges he could face.
The mother had been taking her son to Faith Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith three times a week for the last three weeks in hopes of curing his autism, said Bishop David Hemphill Sr.
It was after more than an hour of prayer that a parishioner noticed the boy was no longer moving and called emergency workers, Hemphill said. The boy’s grandmother said force was used, an allegation disputed by church members.
“We were asking God to take this spirit that was tormenting this little boy to death,” Hemphill said. “We were praying that hard, but not to kill.”
Hemphill identified the man arrested as Ray Hemphill, his brother and another minister who led Friday’s service. David Hemphill said he has not talked to his brother or the boy’s mother, Patricia Cooper, since Friday night.
Cooper’s voicemail was full when the Associated Press tried to reach her Monday evening.
Police have not released the boy’s name but have said they don’t believe he was struck.
Hemphill said church members had wrapped the boy in sheets to keep him from scratching himself and others, but he was allowed to sit “any way that he feels comfortable,”
The boy’s grandmother said the boy had been restrained.