Yates' Preacher Warned of Hellfire

ByABC News via logo

H O U S T O N, March 26, 2002 -- A psychiatrist on Andrea Yates' defense team says the disturbed woman would have never drowned her children if she hadn't found religion from a man named Michael Woroniecki.

A newly uncovered videotape shows traveling evangelist Michael Woroniecki in action. On the tape, Woroniecki is publicly preaching that the that "the whole world is going to hell."

This is the same man Andrea Yates depended on for religious guidance. Psychiatrist Lucy Puryear told Cynthia Hunt of ABCNEWS' Houston affiliate KTRK that Yates' fate might have been different if she never met Woroniecki.

"It's heartbreaking," Puryear said on Good Morning America. "She has schizophrenia. She still would have been ill, but I don't believe she ever, ever would have drowned her children."

Woroniecki first caught the attention of Yates' husband, Russell, who became devoted to the preacher when he was a student at Auburn University in Alabama. The preacher was on the college campus circuit, recruiting new followers. Russell Yates, or Rusty, as he's known, later introduced Woroniecki to his young, impressionable wife, Andrea.

Biblical Names and Buses

The Yates family followed Woroniecki's teachings and patterned their lives after his. The preacher had six children with biblical names and lived on a bus. The Yateses had five children with biblical names, and lived for a while on a bus they bought from Woroniecki.

On the newly released video, Woronieki tells followers that "multitudes are going to hell. God doesn't give a hoot about your little selfish affluent self-oriented world."

At the time Andrea Yates drowned her children, she and Rusty were still devoted followers.

A former follower of Woroniecki says his heart sank when he heard the Yateses were connected to the preacher.

"I dropped the receiver and my heart sank because I knew immediately what happened," said David De La Isla, who had followed Woroniecki for 12 years.

De La Isla says Woroniecki was a powerful influence on the vulnerable mind of Andrea Yates. "In her thinking she was doomed to hell, her kids were going to go to hell, and that the only way she could save them was by killing them."

De La Isla says Woroniecki has no church and no place of worship, but speaks to his followers through newsletters and videotapes.

In one recording he wears the mask of Satan while warning that the devil lurks. "That's all the matters, what you feel in your own heart," Woroniecki says on the videotape.


De La Isla, a successful salesman, says the preachings are more like brainwashing. He says that's why it works on people like himself and the Yateses — Russell, a NASA engineer, and Andrea, who was her high school valedictorian.

"It starts off very innocent, your perceptions start altering and pretty soon you are sucked into a system," De La Isla said.

In following Woroniecki, De La Isla says he quit his job, broke up with his fiancée and tried to kill himself. After 12 years he broke away from Woroniecki when he finally realized that no matter what he did, the preacher still told him he was going to hell. "It's a psychological trap of salvation," De La Isla said.

Woroniecki ignored ABCNEWS' repeated request for a response, but he did write a letter to the Dallas Morning News in which he said: "We enjoyed our relationship with Rusty and Andrea for many years as they tried to learn from our ways of following Jesus … they obviously 'fell short' of salvation."

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