An ordained elder at a San Diego megachurch and her parents have been arrested on allegations of child abuse and torture in the death of the woman’s adopted 11-year-old daughter.
Leticia McCormack, 49, was charged Monday with murder, three counts of torture and three counts of willful cruelty to a child in the death of Arabella McCormack, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said.
McCormack’s father, Stanley Tom, 75, was arrested on the same charges, while her mother, Adella Tom, 70, was slapped with the torture and cruelty charges.
The three suspects allegedly abused and tortured McCormack’s three daughters for about five and a half years, leading up to Arabella’s death in late August, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported, citing a criminal complaint.
McCormack and her parents, who were arrested Monday, all pleaded not guilty at their first court hearing Wednesday.
Arabella’s sisters, ages 6 and 7, have been placed with a foster family, sheriff’s Lt. Chris Steffen told the Union-Tribune.
The adoptive mother volunteered as an ordained elder at the Rock Church, which was founded and led by former NFL player Miles McPherson, according to USA Today.
On Aug. 30, deputies responded to a call of a child in distress at a home on Lakeview in the Spring Valley area of San Diego County, officials said. The child, Arabella, was rushed to a local hospital, where she later died.
Detectives suspected signs of possible child abuse and contacted Arabella’s adopted father Brian McCormack, a 19-year US Customs and Border Patrol agent, who committed suicide in their presence, according to the Union-Tribune.
On Tuesday, Steffen said it was unclear why he killed himself and whether he was involved in the child abuse, which left the girl with bruising and “severe levels of malnourishment,” the paper said.
Outside the courtroom Wednesday, the girls’ biological mom Torriana Florey told the Union-Tribune that Child Protective Services took her daughters because of a “domestic violence dispute” with their dad.
Florey also said she suffered from bipolar disorder, adding that “I couldn’t be the mom the courts wanted me to be, because I was learning. Arabella was my first daughter,” whom she described as a beautiful, bubbly and loving child.
NBC San Diego reported that Arabella and her younger sisters moved in with the McCormacks around 2017.
A Rock Church rep told USA Today on Thursday that McCormack, who began volunteering in 2013, helped with administrative tasks, coordinating events and other ministry activities.
The spokesperson added that her ordination at the church was previously suspended and was in the process of being revoked.
“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. We send our deepest condolences to all that are grieving at this time. Our hearts go out to each of them,” the church told the paper in a statement.
“The legal process will run its course and we hope justice for Arabella and her sisters will be served. We are praying that God’s love and grace will bring comfort and healing,” it said.
“The Rock no longer has any official relationship with Leticia,” the church added.
A church spokesperson also told NBC News that McCormack had not been on staff and only operated as a volunteer, whose members “do not have any leadership or other authority.”
Florey, the biological mother, told Fox 5 San Diego that she wants prosecutors to push for the death penalty in the murder trial and is fighting to get custody of the other girls.
“The safety of our children is of paramount importance to the Sheriff’s Department. We respond to all reports alleging child abuse and neglect,” the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said in a release.
“Conducting an accurate investigation is a long and tedious process. Gathering evidence and conducting interviews must be done methodically while protecting the children and preserving the rights of parents and family members,” it added.
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