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Emon Harper was taken to live at the House of Prayer as a baby in 1986 after his young mother was unable to care for him, but several years later, Harper vanished from the rural Florida property.
Those who lived at the Micanopy, Florida religious community—which investigators and former members have dubbed a cult—would later tell authorities that Harper had suffered horrific abuse while living at the home.
However, not long after he disappeared, the group’s leader, Anna Young, had a simple explanation for his disappearance.
Young told her daughter, Joy Fluker, that Harper no longer lived there and had gone to live at a monastery so that he could someday become a priest, according to an affidavit in the case obtained by Oxygen.com.
It would take more than three decades—and Fluker’s help—to reveal the truth about the boy’s much darker fate.
Harper’s story is revisited in the new UCP Audio podcast “The Followers: House of Prayer,” which takes an in-depth look at years of alleged abuse within the walls of the community. It's hosted by Leila Day and reported by former prosecutor and investigative reporter Beth Karas.
Turning To A Family Friend
Harper was born to his teenage mother, Shonda Harper, on April 1, 1986 at a local Chicago hospital, according to the court documents.
The boy’s biological grandmother, Dorothy Harper, would later tell investigators the family decided to give the baby to a family friend to care for because Shonda, just 16 years old at the time, was “not responsible” and unable to care for the child on her own, according to the affidavit.
Shonda also told investigators that although she was initially resistant to the idea of putting the child up for adoption, she eventually agreed to give her son to her mother’s lifelong friend, Carol Thomas. Shonda told police that she was able to visit with her son several times, but the visits stopped after Thomas abruptly moved to the House of Prayer community with her son in tow.
She would never see him alive again.
Arriving At The House of Prayer
Fluker remembered the day Emon Harper came to the House of Prayer, but said the baby was introduced to her as her new brother and was given the biblical name “Moses.”
She never learned that her family had not properly adopted the young boy until much later, according to the podcast.
“It was such joy,” Fluker told local station WTLV of his arrival. “The thought that a baby was going to the property."
But the joy that Harper brought to the community would not last.
All of the children who lived at home were cared for by Young—who was known as “Mother Anna” to her followers. She embraced a strict religious ideology based on her own interpretation of the Bible.
Members were forced to wear “holy clothes,” consisting of long robes and beards for the men and ankle-length robes and head coverings for the women.
Members, including the young children, were also forced to adhere to the home’s strict set of rules or face harsh forms of abuse, including beatings of “30 lashes” by means of sticks, extension cords and pieces of wood, former members told investigators.
Other times members were allegedly denied food and water for days at a time. One former member described Young to investigators as being “hard on kids,” according to the court records.
While Young had initially been overjoyed to welcome Moses into the fold, Fluker said her attitude toward the young boy began to change after her husband, Jonah Young—who had changed his name from Robert Davidson—was found fatally pinned under a truck at a nearby junkyard.
“He started getting in the trouble all the time. I do remember his beatings, a lot of his whippings,” Fluker said in the “House of Prayer” podcast. “She loved Moses, but I do think part of her cruelty to him was her grief with my dad.”
Members also recalled Young locking the young boy in a closet and withholding food and water from him as part of his punishment.
Fluker remembered finding him in the small closet not long before he disappeared.
“I remember once Moses, he was starving, and I had to give him some water. I remember like looking how pitiful he looked. His eyes were like big and glassy and there was crust all over his lips. It was just like his lips looked like they were diseased,” Fluker recalled in the podcast.
Former members of the group told investigators that although Young would later tell her daughter that Moses had gone to a monastery, the truth was that the young boy died at the house as a result of the abuse.
Thomas Pough, a member at the time, told investigators the night Harper died his father, O.D. Pough, woke him up to tell him the young boy had died, according to the court records. Thomas said he went for a walk in the woods and returned to see members of the group at a burn barrel. He believed the group had decided to “cremate” the young boy’s remains.
Thomas’ biological sister, Sharon Pough, also told authorities she remembered seeing the boy’s dead body in a straw clothes basket between 1988 and 1989.
“When I saw him, I remember there was a big water bug on his forehead. He had a big forehead, and his hair was low,” Pough told investigators, according to The Gainesville Sun. “So when I saw that big water bug, I knew he was dead for a bug to be crawling on his like that. And his chest was, like, um, swollen because he was packed in it.”
Finding Justice After Decades
Harper’s remains were never found but the image of her adopted brother sitting on a stool in the closet, close to death, would continue to haunt Fluker for decades.
She began to have nightmares about him and wished she had done more to help the young boy.
“I just wish I was one of those kids in movies when you see them, you know, the slave or the child thrown in the barn house and the little kid goes and sneaks and gives him some food. I wish I had those memories of myself,” she said in the podcast. “But I don’t. I have memories of me being just as bullying and mistreating as she was.”
But Fluker would eventually speak up for the boy in 2016 after deciding to call the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office to report that her mother had killed Harper.
“How can I snitch on my mom?” she’s heard telling authorities in the call, according to the podcast. “I don’t know if I am doing the right thing. Like is this something that a family is never supposed to tell?”
The call would spark a lengthy investigation into the House of Prayer, which operated from 1983 to 1992.
When investigators initially asked Young about the abuse that went on at the home, she told authorities, “All I can say is God knows,” according to the affidavit.
In February, however, Young, now 79, entered a no contest plea to the second-degree murder of Harper at an Eighth Judicial Circuit courthouse, according to a judgement obtained by Oxygen.com. She also entered a no contest plea in the manslaughter death of Katonya Jackson, another child who died at the property after she was prevented from taking seizure medication.
Young entered a brief statement of admission, obtained by Oxygen.com, that read simply “Emon Harper and Katonya Jackson died. I, Anna Elizabeth Young, am responsible for their deaths.”
“The Followers: House of Prayer” is available at UCPAudio.com or anywhere you listen to podcasts.
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