Faith-healing couple investigated for infant’s death

OREGON CITY, Ore. (KOIN) — Sheriff’s deputies are investigating an Oregon City couple whose infant daughter died of apparent breathing complications just hours after she was born on Sunday.

Sarah Mitchell, 24, gave birth to two girls at her parents’ home on the 1400 block of South Lodger Road, according to Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office.

The grave of Ginnifer Mitchell, an infant who died shortly after her birth on March 5, 2017. Her parents are members of the Followers of Christ Church, who believe in faith healing, not doctors. (KOIN)
The grave of Ginnifer Mitchell, an infant who died shortly after her birth on March 5, 2017. Her parents are members of the Followers of Christ Church, who believe in faith healing, not doctors. (KOIN)

Sarah and her husband, 21-year-old Travis Lee Mitchell, are members of the Followers of Christ Church in Oregon City. The church is known for practicing faith healing and rejecting medical care and modern medicine in favor of prayer and anointment with oil, the sheriff’s office said.

Family members and other people from the church were present for the births.

No one called 911 when one of the babies, Ginnifer Mitchell, developed breathing problems, deputies said. Church elder Carl Hansen called the medical examiner after the infant died.

Suzi Shumaker, a former member of the Followers of Christ Church, said their scriptures tell them not to put faith in doctors.

Shumaker left the church in 1999 to marry a non-member. She said her children were born in hospitals and she takes them to the doctor, but within the church, that’s not allowed and people would be shunned for it.

“Back then when I was part of that group and part of that mindset, it wouldn’t have even crossed my mind to call 911,” Shumaker said.

Shumaker has a blog where she has written about some of her experiences in the church.

The newborn’s cause of death is currently under investigation.

The surviving baby is reportedly several weeks premature. Deputies said the infant is in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Oregon Health & Science University.

Dale, left, and Shannon Hickman listen carefully to opening arguments in their trial in Oregon, City, Ore., Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011. (AP Photo/Benjamin Brink, Pool)

In 2011, Sarah’s sister and brother-in-law, Shannon and Dale Hickman, were found guilty of second-degree manslaughter following the death of their infant son in 2009, the sheriff’s office said. The baby died less than 9 hours after being born.

Both Shannon and Dale are currently serving 6-year prison sentences. Their earliest release date is January 29, 2018.

Sarah and Shannon’s father, Walter Matthew White, is believed to be a direct descendant of Walter White, the founder of the Followers of Christ Church congregation in Oregon City.

“He turned into what I would call a dictator,” Myrna Dee Cunningham, a former member of the Followers of Christ Church, said. “They were scared to death of him.”

Anyone with information on the latest case should call 503.723.4949.

“Even though maybe it’s difficult to come forward, we think this is an excellent time to come forward and stand up for kids,” Detective Sgt. Dan Kraus said.

To submit a tip online, click here and reference CCSO case #17-6024.

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