That bucolic peace was shattered around 12:30 p.m. on Jan 3. On the driveway snaking into the facility, a church member, 24-year-old Chih-Jen Yeh, was fatally stabbed in the neck with a large kitchen knife by a 16-year-old boy Yeh was escorting off the property, according to New South Wales Police. A 30-year-old man was also injured in the attack. Both the victim and alleged attacker were Taiwanese nationals, police said.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the 16-year-old — who has not been publicly identified — was at the center because his mother was going through a “purification ceremony.” But little else has been released about a possible motive, wrapping the vicious crime in mystery.
But not for Scientology’s leadership, who now claim the attack is tied directly to the church’s critics.
Anti-Scientology blog the Underground Bunker posted a letter dated Friday from church spokeswoman Karin Pouw to Paul Buccieri, the president of A+E Networks Group. The text, which has a subject line, “Re: Blood on your hands,” lays blame for the attack on actress and former Scientologist Leah Remini’s Emmy Award-winning program on the church, “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.”
“Week after week, month after month, and now year after year, this series has poisoned the airwaves in an avowed effort to create hatred against the Scientology religion and Scientologists,” the letter states. “Now, somebody is dead. You paid for the hate that caused his murder.”
On Monday, 7 News Sydney published a follow-up letter on its Facebook page that it received from the church, which said, “A&E’s program stirs up religious intolerance, hatred and violence against innocent people.”
The 16-year-old has been charged with murder and is in custody. A Scientology spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment and to confirm the contents of the letter.
Remini — who is in the sitcom “The King of Queens” — has become one of the church’s most vocal antagonists. A Scientologist since age 9, she officially left the church in 2013.
“My mother got involved when we were very young, so it’s all we ever really knew,” she told Ellen DeGeneres that year. “But over time, my eyes opened and I could no longer be affiliated with the organization and my family felt the same, so we left.”
She later penned a memoir about her time in the church, and in 2016 she teamed with former Scientology executive Mike Rinder for A&E’s “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.” The two former church members rip the protective covering off the shadowy organization, interviewing other former members about allegations of abuse and mistreatment.
“The show is really about standing up for what is right and not letting bullies have their way,” Remini explained when the show was picked up for a second season. “I feel it is important for people to know that you can take action to bring about change, both for yourself and for others.”
The church has consistently pushed back against the series, calling the program false.
The church’s “purification” ceremony, also known as a “purification rundown” is one aspect of Scientology that remains murky to outsiders.
Created by church founder L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology defines the protocol as a “detoxification program which enables an individual to rid himself of the harmful effects of drugs, toxins and other chemicals that lodge in the body and create a biochemical barrier to spiritual well-being.” It reportedly involves spending long periods of time in hot saunas, as well as taking large doses of supplements and vitamins.
But the practice has also been labeled “a scam,” based on “half-truths and pseudoscience” by some scientists. According to the St. Petersburg Times in 1999, when a 25-year-old man in Portland, Ore., died of liver failure after taking the course in 1991, his parents sued the church. The case was settled out of court.
Although Australian authorities have not officially detailed any motive in the case, Scientologist spokeswoman Pouw’s letter to A&E claims the accused killer was influenced by Remini’s program.
“The attacker was inspired by an anti-Scientology website that featured your people and included a link to Remini’s show,” the letter states, without citing a source. “Hatred and propaganda always find their mark, especially among those weak and vulnerable to their appeals. And now it has born strange and bitter fruit.”
A spokesman for A&E told the Hollywood Reporter the network would not be commenting on the letter. But Rinder, Remini’s co-host, responded to the church in a Sunday interview with 7 News Sydney.
“They basically seek to shift the blame to our show for their abuses,” Rinder said. “Their statement that this is all caused by A&E and our show because someone apparently looked at a website that mentioned our show — that’s absurd.”