The property was off an isolated road running through north Florida swampland, hidden behind thick walls of trees dripping with moss.
The House of Prayer for All People opened in 1983 in Micanopy, a town just south of Gainesville. For nearly 10 years, children arrived at the religious boarding school and into the care of “Mother Anna” — Anna Elizabeth Young. There, according to Alachua County authorities, they were tortured and abused in a religious cult atmosphere that included exorcism and chemical baths.
Decades later, police are only now beginning to understand what may have happened at the site.
“Witnesses came forward from the House of Prayer alleging brutality and even some children being murdered,” Art Forgey, a spokesman with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office told ABC 20 last week. “It’s not just one isolated incident of beatings. There were numerous children that were beaten, locked in solitary confinement, food-withheld.”
Late last week, Young, 75, was arrested for the premeditated first-degree murder of a child, law enforcement announced in a news release. The Gainesville Sun reported that the charges stem from the death of Emon Harper in the late-1980s. Authorities say the boy was either two or three at the time of his death, but few other details have been released.
Young has not filed a plea. No lawyer for her has been identified so far.
Officials have said they believe Young — who is referred to as a “former cult leader” in a law enforcement news release — may have been involved in more crimes at the isolated Florida compound.
“We think there are many, many more. We can document other states and other missing children that we believe are tied into this,” Forgey told the Sun. “They ran a religious institution — exorcising demons and other things like that. We have documentation involving her clear back the ’60s. We did extensive forensic examination on the property this summer. We are still analyzing the evidence that we gathered.”
The Sun reported that Young and her husband, Jonah Young, had an “outreach ministry run from their home” in Micanopy along with other members of the family. It is unclear how children were placed in the Young’s care. Jonah Young was crushed to death when his car slipped off a jack in 1988.
In 1992, Anna Young was charged in Alachua County with felony child abuse. According to a news release from authorities, the charges stemmed from when Young allegedly bathed a 12-year-old girl with chemicals in a steel tub, leaving her with severe burns. Young fled the state. She was located eight years later living in an attic in a relative’s house in Illinois. Court records indicated that she pleaded no contest and was sentenced to six months in prison 2001.
In the last year, children who stayed with Young at the House of Prayer, now in their 40s and 50s, have approached authorities with stories of torture, punishment, caging, and starvation. Those allegations led to the charges in the Harper death.
“It’s going to be a really complex case and there is a lot of sensitivity with the victims, who are all adults now,” Darry Lloyd, the spokesman for the Florida Eighth Circuit State Attorney, told the Sun. “Their recall is very good because they’ve been through it.”
Young, who now lives in Cobb County, Ga., was arrested last week and is in custody. Her extradition to Florida is pending.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg that we know of,” Alachua County Sheriff’s Office’s Forgey told ABC 20.
More from Morning Mix: