House of Prayer residents say torture, abuse was common

The Gainesville Sun

December 25, 2017

By Cindy Swirko

‘This didn’t have to go on. It could have been stopped much earlier.’

John Neal was about 6 when he and his little sister, Katonya, went to live with Anna Young at the House of Prayer, and he was 12 when he was spirited away.

During those years, Neal saw Katonya tortured until she eventually died. He was beaten and saw others beaten. He said Young forced a mother to take her son to Puerto Rico and abandon him at a church, or else the boy might have died from abuse.

Neal, now 40, saw a lot more and kept quiet, until recently. Now, thanks to him and others who went to law enforcement, Young is a 76-year-old in the Alachua County jail facing murder charges in connection with the death of a toddler about 30 years ago.

“People were brainwashed. Like the Jim Jones thing — if Anna had said ‘Drink the Kool-Aid,’ we would have drunk the Kool-Aid,” Neal said. “She used fear and she used God. Number one, she used God. Everybody was going to burn in hell. The kids had demons in them — that’s why they got treated so bad.”

Young’s arrest and the details now emerging about the House of Prayer raise questions about missed opportunities to end the abuse earlier.

The indictment is for the death of Emon Harper sometime between 1988 and 1989. Also called Moses, he was 2 or 3 years old at the time and was allegedly killed by Young through starvation and torture.

The boy’s remains have not been found. Multiple people who lived at the church compound said his body was burned in a pit. They said he was from Chicago and that his parents did not live at the compound.

Neal lived at the House of Prayer property, first in Waldo and later on Southeast 138th Avenue off Wacahoota Road, while Emon was there. Neal said he cannot talk about Emon because of the legal case against Young.

But Neal talked about how he ended up at House of Prayer, his life there and his recovery.

And he talked about his little sister.

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