Police say that a prematurely born infant died hours after her birth because the parents, who are connected to a “faith healing” church, neglected to call for medical attention, The Oregonian reported on Monday.
Married Oregon couple Sarah Mitchell, 24, and Travis Mitchell, 21, were indicted on Friday with murder charges in the March death. The Mitchells are members of Followers of Christ Church, which rejects medical care in favor of prayer and religious ceremonies.
After Sarah Mitchell gave birth to two twin girls in March at her house, one of her newborn daughters, Ginnifer Mitchell, began having difficulty breathing. About 60 church parishioners were at the house while this happened, but none of them called 911, a court affidavit said.
Ginnifer was only 16 inches long and 3 pounds, 6 ounces when she died, a county medical examiner said. He estimated that Sarah was between 7 and a half and eight months pregnant when she gave birth.
Ginnifer’s twin sister, Evelyn, appeared healthy but was the same size as her sister. The medical examiner told the Mitchells that their surviving girl needed immediate medical attention due to her small size; Mitchell’s father Walter White responded “thank you for your input.”
Police later escorted Evelyn to the hospital.
An autopsy report found that Ginnifer had died from complications of prematurity due to underdeveloped lungs, but that her death had been avoidable, and there would have been signs that the baby had been struggling to breathe.
“The death was preventable if Baby Ginnifer had been given the medical care available in a hospital neonatal intensive care unit,” the report said.
In 2011, Sarah Mitchell’s sister Shannon Hickman, who also ascribes to faith healing, was convicted along with her husband in the death of her prematurely born son.
Sarah's and Shannon's grandfather, also named Walter White, was the founder of the Followers of Christ Church.
[Image: Clackamas County Sheriff's Office]