Creswell teen's death under investigation

His family apparently belongs to a church that advocates faith healing over medical treatment

The Register-Guard, Oregon/December 27, 2011

The Lane County Sheriff's Office is investigating the death of a 16-year-old Creswell boy whose cause of death is unknown and whose family apparently belongs to a church that believes illnesses and injuries should be treated with prayer rather than medical care.

Austin Lewis Sprout, a junior at Creswell High School and a member of the school's basketball team, died Tuesday of unknown causes pending an autopsy, the family said in an obituary notice faxed to The Register-Guard on Thursday.

A graveside service is planned for next Tuesday at the Creswell Pioneer Cemetery, followed by a dinner at the General Assembly and the Church of the First Born, according to the obituary.

The General Assembly and the Church of the First Born has a long history of controversial deaths related to healing by prayer, according to the Rick Ross Institute, a New Jersey-based Internet archive of information about "cults, destructive cults, controversial groups and movements."

The General Assembly and the Church of the First Born lists a Springfield congregation with a Eugene address and a congregation in Monroe in Linn County, according to various websites.

None of Sprout's immediate family members listed in the obituary could be reached for comment late Thursday.

A distant family member who lives out of state and spoke on the condition of anonymity said he is not a member of the church but is familiar with its "faith healing" practices. He said there are rare instances when church-believing family members will use dentists.

Another out-of-state relative said she has been concerned about the safety of children in the family.

"The adults are free to do whatever they want on their own," she said. "But I feel bad the children are forced to go along with it."

Lane County sheriff's Sgt. Billy Halvorson confirmed Thursday night that Sprout's death is under investigation.

"We investigate deaths, especially when they're involving children," he said.

Halvorson said he had no information about the nature or circumstances related to Sprout's death.

But community speculation suggests Sprout had been struggling with flu-like symptoms for the last week or two, said Stan Mercer, a Creswell Middle School teacher who had previously taught and coached Sprout when he was in middle school. He also taught Sprout in an archery class.

"He was a fantastic kid," Mercer recalled. "He was very polite, very respectful. He was a hard-working student for me. He was one of those quiet kids where you had a sense in teaching him that maybe middle school would not be his biggest stage — but that he was going to grow up to be a really good man. That's why it's so heartbreaking to hear about this."

Mercer said community speculation also has revolved around whether medical attention might have averted his death. He said similar speculation emerged in September 2007 when Sprout's father, Brian Sprout, died.

"I remember him just sobbing," Mercer said of seeing Austin Sprout's grief at his father's death four years ago. "I remember thinking, 'What a tragedy.' "

Sprout was born July 14, 1995, in Lowell to Brian and Brandi Smith Sprout, according to the family's obituary. He had lived in Creswell most of his life.

He was an avid fisherman and hunter, and also worked part-time, the family said in his obituary.

Sprout is survived by his mother and stepfather; several grandparents; a great-grandmother; and four sisters and two brothers, the family said.

Reporter Mat Wolf contributed to this report.

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