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Lawsuit: Miles McPherson’s Megachurch Complicit in Murder of Former Elder’s Daughter

By Josh Shepherd
mcpherson mccormack daughter megachurch
Rock Church in San Diego, California, founded by Miles McPherson (right), has been named in a lawsuit related to the death of Arabella McCormack last August. (Photos: Video screengrab / San Diego Sheriff's Department)

Pastor Miles McPherson’s San Diego megachurch is being sued for its alleged complicity in the reported torture and murder of an 11-year-old daughter of one of its former ordained elders. The suit claims that staff and members of McPherson’s Rock Church saw evidence the girl was being starved and abused to death but did nothing.

The suit concerns Arabella McCormack, the adopted daughter of Leticia McCormack, an ordained church elder and former program coordinator for the Rock School of Ministry.

As previously reported by The Roys Report (TRR), Arabella died last August soon after paramedics were called to the McCormack home, where they found Arabella, battered and severely malnourished. Arabella’s biological father told TRR that he reported suspected abuse of Arabella and her sisters to Rock staff years ago, but they dismissed his concerns.

leticia mccormack child
Leticia McCormack (Photo: San Diego County Sheriff’s Department)

In November, Leticia McCormack and her father, Stanley Tom, were charged with murder in connection with the death of Arabella McCormack. Leticia and both her parents, Stanley and Adella Tom, were also charged with three counts of torture and three counts of child abuse, in connection with Arabella and her two surviving sisters. 

The civil lawsuit was filed on July 13 in the Superior Court of California on behalf of Arabella’s two sisters and seeks unspecified damages. The suit names 10 separate defendants, including the adoptive family—Leticia McCormack and Stanley and Adella Tom— as well as Rock Church and one of its employees. 

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Also named in the suit are multiple City of San Diego departments whose employees reportedly failed to report child abuse as mandated by law. 

The case recounts the horrifying condition in which paramedics found Arabella McCormack. “She weighed just 40 pounds. Her bones were sticking out . . . She had bruises, ulcerations, cuts, and scabs . . . X-rays (later) revealed that she had thirteen bone fractures,” the suit said.

According to the suit, a church member reported that the McCormack children looked like “little ghosts” and said Leticia McCormack claimed there was “demonic activity” with Arabella. Despite this, the member didn’t take action to protect the children, the suit alleged.

The suit also alleged that a church employee saw Arabella within days of her death but failed to report her obvious abuse.

miles mcpherson mccormack arabella leticia
On November 13, 2022, Miles McPherson, senior pastor of Rock Church in San Diego, California, preaches to his congregation. (Video screengrab)

With weekly attendance of over 20,000 people, Rock Church was founded by former NFL player McPherson who serves as senior pastor. The megachurch is part of the Association of Related Churches (ARC), where McPherson is part of the Lead Team. McCormack’s arrest is the latest in a series of scandals within ARC churches or the ARC itself.

Charges against Rock Church and staff

The suit argues that Rock Church is liable for Arabella’s death, not only because of Leticia’s church position, but also because a staff member, Kevin Johnstone, failed to report signs of abuse he allegedly witnessed.

At the time of the events detailed in the suit, Johnstone was employed by Rock Church as a child abuse investigator and safety operations manager. Johnstone also worked as a chaplain for the local fire department.

The suit claims Johnstone visited all three children at the McCormacks’ residence “just the week prior to Arabella’ s death.” It adds that Johnstone would have observed the girls as “severely emaciated, underdeveloped, and the victims of prolonged starvation, isolation, lack of medical care, torture, and abuse.” 

The suit accuses Johnstone of neglect and failure to perform his duties as a mandated reporter of abuse and holds both Rock Church and the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department liable.

The suit adds that Johnstone never received training to be a CPS investigator. And it accuses Rock Church and Mr. Johnstone of providing “a false narrative to the public by holding him out as a CPS investigator.”

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The Rock Church – Point Loma Campus in San Diego, Califronia (Courtesy Photo)

TRR reached out to a Rock Church media spokesperson but did not receive a response.

According to NBC 7 San Diego, the city attorney declined to comment when asked about Johnstone’s role with the fire department. 

NBC 7 also reported that it received foster care and adoption records, adding more detail to the claims made in the lawsuit.

These records reportedly show that a church member called Child Welfare Services after Arabella died. That person was part of a group that prayed over Zoom for Arabella’s family and its challenges handling Arabella, NBC 7 reported. One member of the group reportedly said they were “concerned” by “what I saw the girl look like.”

The documents also reportedly contained testimony of a person who claimed he reported abuse of Arabella to a church counselor. The counselor reportedly told the person to not “say anything.” And when the person asked for guidance, he reportedly was “told to do nothing.”

As reported by TRR last November, McPherson called the death of Arabella McCormack a “very sad situation” that was “bewildering because there were so many background checks done.”` And in a statement posted online, leaders of Rock Church called Arabella’s death “unimaginable.”

The statement added: “A tragedy like this will rightly inspire intense reflection and soul searching by anyone who had interaction with this family. . . clearly evil was hidden from obvious view. It’s shocking and frightening and a reminder that humans are inherently sinners.”

Charges against San Diego police officer, welfare agent

In addition to her roles with Rock Church, Leticia McCormack also volunteered as a crisis interventionist with the San Diego Police Department (SDPD). The lawsuit states that when coworkers became aware of “issues of child neglect and/or abuse,” Officer Lawanda Fisher was assigned to investigate.

Fisher visited the McCormacks’ home on multiple occasions. “When Officer Fisher saw the girls, all three girls were severely emaciated, underdeveloped, and the victims of prolonged starvation,” states the lawsuit.

Aerial view of McCormack family home in Spring Valley, California (Video screengrab / NBC 7)

The suit alleges that Fisher not only failed in her role as a mandated reporter of abuse, but actually contributed to the abuse. Specifically, it states: “Officer Fisher provided Ms. McCormack with a wood paddle to strike and inflict pain on the girls. When the first wood paddle broke, Officer Fisher provided Ms. McCormack with two more paddles.”

The suit names the police department as “vicariously liable” for the abuse and other crimes that occurred.

SDPD confirmed to NBC 7 that Fisher remains an active-duty officer, but otherwise did not comment on pending litigation.

According to the lawsuit, San Diego County Child Welfare Services (CWS) received multiple complaints in 2018 from the elementary school that Arabella attended.

Arabella McCormack Rock Church McPherson daughter
Arabella McCormack (Photo: San Diego County Sheriff’s Department)

One stated that the parents of then seven-year-old Arabella “withheld water from Arabella and limited her drinking to one Dixie cup per day.”

An agent of CWS interviewed the child in front of Leticia McCormack—a situation in which it was unlikely the child “could feel safe speaking,” notes the lawsuit. In that conversation, the suit states that Arabella denied any abuse.

“The withholding of water and food, and bizarre punishments, are red flags for child abuse (which) welfare agents are trained to identify and act upon,” states the lawsuit.

The editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune published an op-ed in support of the lawsuit, noting that: “(it) may never answer difficult questions in this case.”

“But one truth remains fixed: What happened to her was appalling,” the board added. “At least some of the adults in her life outside her family had to have known she faced abuse—and should have done something about it. She should still be alive.”

A hearing in the civil case has not yet been scheduled by the Superior Court of California-County of San Diego. Regarding the criminal charges against Leticia McCormack and her parents, a preliminary hearing is scheduled for August. 

Freelance journalist Josh Shepherd writes on faith, culture, and public policy for several media outlets. He and his family live in the Washington, D.C. area.



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15 thoughts on “Lawsuit: Miles McPherson’s Megachurch Complicit in Murder of Former Elder’s Daughter”

  1. Why are there so many scandalous sinful activities taking place in mega churches and in so many ARC churches? What are the commonalities? Someone(s) need to do an in-depth study. This is becoming way too frequent.

    1. George, Agreed. At first blush the commonalities seem to be a charismatic leader who people revere and adore above all else. It’s a cult of personality, and that personality is decidedly not Christ Himself. People come to hear the worship leader(s). It’s a form of entertainment rather than spiritual development.

      Another is lack of accountability structures within the church, both to its own professed beliefs and to civil / criminal authorities in the face of illegal activity. Usually there is a patchwork of coverups along the way to put out small fires while the bonfire is raging.

      Another is a concern first and foremost that the reputation and standing of the institution not be harmed, even members and others are being harmed by its activities. Cult members practice evil while others turn a blind eye while others say, “Nothing to see here.” SMH.

      1. Linda Olsen is spot on, 100% correct. How is it that there is at least some level of accountability for verbal abuse and rude words, no matter what the secular institution happens to be? Yet, some spoiled and arrogant men get into some country club theology school, graduate, and speak as if they have no accountability when at the bully pulpit. Many of these men have no work or life experience prior to graduation. But they certainly have all of life’s moral answers, and no accountability for spiritual abuse. It’s disgusting.

    2. Part of the problem is that many of these people are not Christians. They’ve never been saved and they operate with agendas and false motives.

      1. I’ve seen this happen so many times.

        You have changed this from a fatal child abuse/neglect case into an abstract Theological debate. And while we’re fighting over Who’s Saved and Who’s Not (i.e. how many angels can dance on the head of a pin), the abusers who did this slip out the back door.

  2. Why in the world is there anyone at this point still attending this “church?” This is not a church. It is a cemetery for children. This is just beyond the pale. Spiritual death becomes physical death. These people were in leadership? How outrageous! I have read many accounts of abusive fake churches but this one I think tops every one of them. People go there because the “pastor” is an old NFL celebrity? I can think of many more appropriate terms for him but I cannot write them here. I think Jesus said something about millstones? Yet who actually takes Jesus seriously? There are worse things by far then death and this is where this whole “church” is headed.

    1. Kathleen Zielinski

      Ralph, the reasons people are attending this church are the same as the reasons the Tower of Babel was built: “Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves.” Genesis 11:4. Unfortunately, not much has changed since then.

  3. The motivation of the adoptive family, and all those who failed to intervene to save Arabella, is beyond my understanding.

    The photographs of Arabella make me think of those of Anne Frank.

  4. The only discernible demons never possessed Arabella; they completely surrounded her.

    Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, and other rotating cast members from small group prayer partners to other church leaders pretended concern but played their active long-term parts in the systematic and obvious torture of three children until the death one child. Let’s be clear: only Arabella’s death “rescued” her two siblings. Whoever called authorities at that point realized they had a serious problem that they needed to solve. Only self-interest motivated them.

    No wonder so many young people nowadays proudly self-identify as “nones.”

    1. “discernible demons”.
      Discernment originally meant seeing the reality beneath the appearance.
      Now in Christianese it means smelling out demons in every closet, under every bed, and in that sweater you bought at a thrift store. Like a Witchfinder-General smelling out witches and witchcraft.

      I have had a “spiritual warfare expert” claim to discern demons in a fantasy art piece I acquired in 2010 and demonic activity in COVID (Plandemic Conspiracy, Persecution of Donald Trump sub-type) hushed up by the secular media. I survived the Satanic Panic in the Eighties, and have had only two paranormal experiences in my life (not one every 30 seconds). Like the Seven Sonds of Sceva in the Book of Acts, these mighty demon-fighters have never run into a real one. I have (in the big paranormal experience).

  5. William Thomas Bray

    I am so glad to see you exposing these sins of the church. I hope that RNS, EP News and other church news agencies pick up on more of these stories. We have to clean house and deal with all sins, but especially cases of abuse.

  6. I think that one (but only one) of the motivating factors in these cover ups is the fear of the shunning and destruction of reputations of whistleblowers by the perpetrators and their minions. People don’t necessarily acquire courage just because they proclaim themselves to have “Christian values”.

  7. Poor darling girl, already cast out by her blood family, here she is with her beautiful smile wanting to please the photographer, phephaps her muderers, she defended them by lying to cover for them. Totally sickening not one adult stepped up for her, breaks my heart, I would say I hope everyone at that church who had any idea what was going on, and said nothing, I hope they feel there part in her death. I know we are to forgive, but I feel it hard to do so when those that can’t speak for themselves are not protected. Praise God she will be safe in Our Lirds loving arms. Amen but what about her sisters? What has happened to them.
    I also think that church should be closed down as mentioned here date say if is a fan based church.
    They are very blessed to have a Heavenly Father that can forgive even deep evil… anyway it is a sad time to be a follower of Christ with so much evil debase goings on and it’s not rare. Jesus must be weeping.

    1. I’ve talked to the biological parents. I would not characterize them as casting Aarabella out. The state took Arabella and her sisters away from the parents. And the circumstances surrounding that decision are contested by them. I don’t claim to know what happened but I wouldn’t judge without more information.

  8. The adoptive “Mother” of that little girl is EVIL! She abused her due to her hatred of that child….and for what? It was/is the Evil inside of her that hated that sweet little girl. I have no doubt that baby is resting in the Arms of our Lord Jesus now and she is no longer looking emaciated, malnourished, and abused. These ARC Churches appear to be Satan’s stomping grounds! I wouldn’t step foot in them. I’m really surprised that Miles McPherson did not do more individual investigation himself when he surely heard the rumors and saw some evidence that something wasn’t right. In either case, it is a shame before Almighty God!

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