Fla. megachurch denies hosting 'COVID-19 parties' after teen dies: 'Absolutely false'
First Assembly of God, a megachurch in Fort Myers, Florida, has denied reports that they hosted a huge party, attended by a 17-year-old girl who later died from COVID-19, where no social distancing was practiced or masks worn.
“Over the past 24 hours First Assembly of God of Fort Myers has been accused of hosting ‘COVID-19 parties.’ Nothing could be farther from the truth. First Assembly of God of Fort Myers is following all of the health protections and protocols recommended by the state and local government with regard to holding its church services. Let us be clear - media reports and postings accusing the church of ignoring protocols or actively engaging in behavior intended to expose our congregation to the virus are absolutely false and defamatory,” the church said in a statement Tuesday.
The teenager, Carsyn Leigh Davis, described by her mother Carole Davis in a GoFundMe campaign as a “devout Christian and follower of Jesus,” died on June 23 from COVID-19, almost two weeks after attending a church function at First Assembly of God.
The church was named by The Washington Post and other media outlets following a report from the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner Department, which noted that: “On June 10, the decedent attended a church function with 100 other children. She did not wear a mask. Social distancing was not followed.”
Data scientist Rebekah Jones, who previously oversaw Florida Department of Health's COVID-19 dashboard before she was removed from her position in May when the state began to reopen, first highlighted the findings of the medical examiner, Newsweek reported.
Jones, who is also a former member of First Assembly of God, cited the medical examiner's findings Sunday as part of a project called Florida COVID Victims.
"I started looking into her mother, the church where the COVID party was held with more than 100 children, her health history, and who she was and I felt so angry and sad that this happened," she said.
The church reportedly hosted a "party" on June 10 which was advertised on Facebook but deleted from the church's social media page on Monday. Screenshots of the deleted post advertised a "release party" complete with a DJ, karaoke and basketball.
First Assembly of God, led by senior pastor, Dan Betzer, who is also a national executive with the Assemblies of God, argued in its statement that allegations about its handling of the new coronavirus are nothing but irresponsible speculation.
As a result of the reports, the church said they have been coming under “relentless attack” from the public.
“Those allegations are absolutely false and are based upon irresponsible speculation and inaccurate information. Because those false reports have been picked up, perpetuated and posted throughout national, local and social media, the church has been subject to a relentless attack and finds itself forced to make this statement in an effort to get the truth out,” church officials noted.
The medical examiner’s report said that Davis' mother, who is a nurse, and stepdad, who is a physician's assistant, began treating her with azithromycin as a preventive measure from June 10 to 15. The antibiotic in combination with hydroxychloroquine has been pitched by President Donald Trump as a potential treatment for coronavirus.
The obese teenager, who previously battled cancer and other health issues, developed frontal headache, sinus pressure, and a mild cough on June 13.
“The family thought her symptoms were due to a sinus infection. The symptoms persisted. On June 19, the mother noted she looked ‘gray’ while sleeping,” the medical examiner’s report said.
After a subsequent treatment with hydroxychloroquine and other interventions failed to improve her condition, her parents took her to Gulf Coast Medical Center and she was transferred to Golisano Hospital PICU. She tested positive for COVID-19 on June 19. She died on June 23 after “heroic efforts” to save her life. She became Lee County’s youngest virus-related fatality at the time.
In a statement on the GoFundMe campaign seeking to raise $55,000, her mother described her as a patriotic, faithful and selfless “God warrior.”
“Carsyn was a God warrior, mentor, advisor, advocate, helper and friend to all who knew her. She regularly stood up for those who could not fight for themselves,” Carole Davis said.
“She was actively involved in Youth Church at First Assembly of God in Ft. Myers. She was involved with the Angel Tree ministry, buying and delivering gifts to underprivileged youth who had a parent serving time in prison. She also participated in the Operation Christmas Child program through Samaritan’s Purse, filling several Christmas boxes each year. Though she never wanted anything for herself, she was always making or buying gifts for others,” she explained.
First Assembly of God said expressed its condolences, saying, "It is heartbreaking that a young lady who frequently attended Youth Church over the past few years has recently passed away.
"The church, and many members of Youth Church particularly, had reached out to her family and her during her illness, praying for her and sending video messages and personal encouragement while she was going through her illness and in the hospital. Out of respect for her family, and at their request, the church did not comment to the media about her illness and her passing. The church intends to continue to honor that request. Our sympathies go out to her entire family during this tragic period of their lives.
“First Assembly of God of Fort Myers has always tried to be a leader in promoting caring, compassion, reason and the love of Jesus Christ in this community and throughout the world. Despite these false accusations, the church will continue to follow the lead of Jesus and hope that the actions of our love for others, and the history of those efforts, speak for us.”