March 27, 2008— -- Wisconsin authorities will consider filing charges in the case of an 11-year-old girl who died on Easter Sunday of complications from diabetes that went untreated because police say her parents' obscure religious beliefs do not allow medical intervention.
"When you're dealing with an 11-year-old child, your first thought is neglect," Capt. Scott Sleeter, a spokesman for the Everest Metro Police Department in Wisconsin, told ABC News.
Madeline Kara Neumann, who went by the name Kara and was the youngest child of Leilani and Dale Neumann, died Sunday of "diabetic ketoacidosis," according to a Marathon County autopsy report. Efforts were made to revive the little girl, whose diabetes had never been diagnosed, when she stopped breathing at the house, officials say.
She was transported to Saint Clare's Hospital in Weston, where she was pronounced dead.
"Basically, we're trying to understand how an 11-year-old died," Sleeter said. "We're talking to everybody who was there and everybody who may have information about her condition leading up to her death.
"Your first thoughts are, 'Did she not get what she needed to survive?'"
Police were on the way to the Neumann's rural Wisconsin home to perform a welfare check on the girl, after the Marathon County Sheriff's Office got a call from Kara's aunt, Ariel Gomez of California, expressing concern about Kara.
Before they could even get to the home, a 911 call came from the Neumann house about a medical emergency.
Gomez called the sheriff's office three times Sunday about her niece's medical condition, according to the Marathon County Sheriff's Office. "My sister-in-law is, her daughter's severely, severely sick and she believes her daughter is in a coma," Gomez is heard telling the dispatcher in one of the 911 calls released by the sheriff's office. "And, she's very religious, so she's refusing to take [Kara] to the hospital, so I was hoping maybe somebody could go over there."
Gomez asks authorities to send an ambulance, and warns the dispatcher that Leilani Neumann will fight attempts to intervene. "We've been trying to get her to take [Kara] to the hospital for a week, a few days now," Gomez tells the dispatcher.
The Neumann family has ties to the "Unleavened Bread Minstries," a little-known church that shuns modern medicine in favor of prayer. A statement posted on the organization's Web site by the founder, David Eells, says the Neumanns "contacted one of our elders to ask that I call them to pray for their daughter. That elder got in touch with me Saturday evening and I called the Neumanns."
Eells also wrote that the Neumanns have posted testimonials on their Web site but are not "'under' our minstry."
Eells does say his church does not believe in the the medical intervention.
"We are not commanded in scripture to send people to the doctor but to meet their needs through prayer and faith. As anyone here in the ministry will tell you, we are not against doctors for those who have their faith there and never condemn or restrict them in any way," Eells writes. "But we know that the best one to trust in for healing is Jesus Christ. The foundation for receiving this benefit from Him is repentance and faith in His promises."
Sleeter says when officials started to investigate the case, the Neumanns were initially cooperative, but said the couple, who have three other teenaged children, are "of the opinion that they've talked to us and there's nothing else they want to say."
Social service officials interviewed the Neumanns' other three children, 16- and 13-year-old boys and a 15-year-old girl, on Wednesday, Sleeter said, and appointments with doctors were scheduled for the teens today. For now, Sleeter said, the Neumanns will not lose custody of their children during the death investigation.
"It's our understanding that when the kids are done being examined, in all likelihood they will be able to go with their parents," Sleeter said.
Messages left by ABC News at the Neumanns' Weston, Wisc., home and at a coffee shop co-owned by Leilani Neumann were not returned. In an interview with The Associated Press, the girl's parents confirmed that they believe healing comes from God, but said they did not want their child to die, they are not zealots and they do not have anything against doctors.
Dale Neumann, a former police officer, told the AP that he started to perform CPR on his daughter "as soon as the breath of life left."
But authorities believe the girl, who was enrolled in a local public school until last spring and this fall has been homeschooled, was likely ill for several days, perhaps longer, before her death Sunday.
In the interview, Leilani Neumann said that she is not worried about the police investigation because her family's lives are "in God's hands" and they know that they did the best thing for their daughter that they knew how to do.
Sleeter, the Everest Metro police spokesman, said that the family is not involved in particular organized religion and that the family's prayer group consisted only of about eight people.
A recent poem and writing by Leilani Neumann, however, are posted at AmericasLastDays.com, the Web site of Unleavened Bread Ministries, which features the message, "These are America's Last Days." The site describes the faith as nondenominational and founded by ministry leader David Eells, who spreads his message, teachings and interpretations of the Bible online and in books.
In one chapter of his book "Sovereign God for Us and Through Us," Eells writes about the need to rely on God to face corporal sickness. "We cannot get anyone out from under a curse except through the Gospel," Eells wrote. "Sometimes God is merciful, but we cannot guarantee God's deliverance to those who do not walk under the blood."
The Unleavened Bread Minstries is not the only church to attract the attention of law enforcement in connection with members refusing medical help.
The Christian Science church is one of the largest and perhaps best-known churches to favor divine spiritual healing over medicine. The church generally considers sickness as the result of fear or sin and looks down upon drugs and surgery. Still, the Christian Science church does not literally forbid church members from seeking medical attention.
Under the Jehovah's Witnesses interpretation of the Bible, church members are prohibited from taking blood from anyone, a doctrine that can cause them to refuse blood transfusions.
"Our perspective is pretty straightforward and clear — if the surgery involves the transfusion of blood or a major component of blood, such as plasma, then we look as it as contrary to what is stated in scripture," J.R. Brown, the spokesperson for the Jehovah's Witnesses World Headquarters in New York, told ABC News in December. Beyond that restriction, Jehovah's Witnesses can make medical decisions on a personal basis.
In November, a 14-year-old Jehovah's Witness in Washington State diagnosed with leukemia refused a blood transfusion that could have saved his life, a decision upheld by a judge. The teen died shortly after a judge denied an emergency request by the state to mandate the transfusion.
The Everest Metro Police Department will work with the Marathon County District Attorney's Office to determine whether charges should be filed in the death of 11-year-old Madeline Kara Neumann.