From the beginning, Freeman's congregation was the subject of controversy.
At a meeting of the County Board of Health on October 23, 1974, Barbara Clouse, the Health Nurse for Kosciusko County was concerned that the Glory Barn was a major health problem and it would only get worse. She detailed her concerns, saying that:
"Diabetics were not taking their insulin and pregnant women were receiving no pre-natal or post-natal care. ... They are laying dead babies and live babies next to each other on the altars and praying over them to get the live babies to bring life back to the dead ones. There was one woman in our county praying over a baby for four days before the funeral home got hold of it."
Clouse's concerns were later supported by local hospital statistics for 1975/6, which suggested that women from the congregation who gave birth at home were over 60 times more likely to die than those who gave birth at hospital under medical supervision. Later assessment by the US Department of Health and Human Services supported this conclusion. Deaths of several women, infants and babies were reported, and the local media blamed Freeman's teachings as medical treatment had been declined or refused.
Deaths continued to be reported to the frustration of county law enforcement officials.
Shortly after they were publicized, the old Glory Barn burnt down in the early hours of July 4, 1980. Six people escaped from the burning two-story barn. Two youngsters, Joel and Lee, suffered burns before they were rescued from their bedrooms by their father Brendan Wahl. The boys' mother, Peggy Wahl (née Nusbaum), also claims to have been involved in their rescue, along with their daughter Penny who was not injured. Fire brigades from North Webster, Syracuse and Cromwell fought the blaze for some two hours until dawn, and the fire was subsequently investigated by the Noble County Police and Indiana State Fire Marshal. North Webster fire officials described the fire as of "suspicious origin". To date no culprit has been charged.
In May 1983, the Chicago Tribune ran a story on David Gilmore whose 15-month-old son, Dustin Graham, had died five years previously from an easily treatable form of meningitis. Following church teaching, Gilmore and his wife had relied solely on prayer for their son's healing. Gilmore said he knew of twelve other children who had died under similar circumstances. The Tribune further identified fifty-two deaths from Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky which, they asserted, were attributable to church teaching. A few months later, ABC television's Nightline reported that pregnant women following church teaching died at a rate eight times the national average and their children at three times. Nightline further identified nineteen states and five countries where deaths had occurred which, they asserted, were attributable to church teaching.
Eventually, Hobart Freeman was charged with aiding and abetting one of these deaths by what was described as "negligent homicide". At least ninety members of the congregation died during Freeman's ministry, which Daniel McConnell described as tragic and preventable.
Read more about this topic: Hobart Freeman
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