New York - Eyewitness News continues our investigative series digging deeper into the secrets of the Word of Life Christian Church.
After battling declining health for some time, Jerry Irwin passes away. A new self-proclaimed prophet stepping onto the pulpit...Jerry's daughter, Tiffanie Irwin.
"She's very mean-spirited as a pastor and she's more, you know, the Old Testament where you rule with an iron fist," Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara said. "What we were able to determine from watching all of the sermons, she would tell people that something happened and when the person would say, 'I don't remember that,' she would say, 'well, that's because you were possessed by a lying spirit. That lying spirit is preventing you from remembering what happened.' She would convince people that things happened that never happened.
"There is one thing that I think is telling about Jerry, which is kind of why Tiffanie is the way she is," McNamara added. "Jerry pinned Tiffanie against Kristel Leonard."
"When I first started spending time with the Irwins and then living with them, Tiffanie and I had more of a sister-like relationship," Kristel Leonard told us. "As time went by, it became more competitive jealousy; there was certainly contention there, and I couldn't put my finger on what the problem was."
Leonard recalls several occasions where Pastor Jerry Irwin would tell her she was being mean to his daughter.
"I didn't see it in myself," Leonard continued. "It certainly wasn't anything that I tried to do, because I did look to her as being more spiritual than myself because she was the pastor's daughter and she was more devout than I was in her religious duties."
The struggle only grew as time moved forward and Tiffanie's role became larger.
"Early in the year, Tiffanie began speaking from the pulpit, saying that God was telling one of the members to give a large sum of money to the church," Leonard said. "It came with a warning, or what I would consider now a threat. She said, 'if the person who God is speaking to doesn't obey and give the money, then serious physical harm or even death will come to someone very near to them'."
Kristel Leonard later discovered that Tiffanie Irwin was speaking directly to her in that statement. She remembered the warning and turned to Traci Irwin for help.
"She told me that if need be, she could show me how to siphon money through the credit card without my husband's knowledge," Leonard said.
Kristel Leonard and her immediate family decided to walk away from the congregation in the summer of 2014, but leaving also meant leaving behind her father and brothers.
It was an unwritten rule within the group that once someone decided to leave, they would be excommunicated.
"If you want to cook a frog, you put it in cold water and you gradually turn up the heat," Leonard added. "The frog still feels comfortable until it's too late and he can't do anything, and he's cooked."
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