The Rock Church in San Diego, California, and one employee have been named among several defendants in a civil lawsuit alleging numerous failures to report and investigate child abuse less than a year after Leticia McCormack, a one-time elder and former volunteer, was charged with the murder of her 11-year-old adopted daughter, Arabella.
The 27-page lawsuit, filed on behalf of Arabella's two surviving younger sisters, also names among the defendants the San Diego Police Department and one of its officers, the San Diego Fire Rescue Department and one of its employees, the Pacific Coast Academy and two of its employees, San Diego County Child Welfare Services and two of its employees as well as McCormack, the estate of her late husband Brian McCormack, and her parents, Adella and Stanley Tom.
"The defendants in this case include not only the perpetrators of this horrific abuse — Leticia McCormack, Brian McCormack (sued through his estate), Adella Tom (Leticia's mother), and Stanley Tom (Leticia's father), but also the individuals and entities who interacted with the McCormacks and the girls in the weeks, months and years leading up to Arabella's death, and who owed mandatory duties to report the girls' neglect to the proper authorities," the lawsuit reads.
According to the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, 49-year-old McCormack was arrested with her parents on Nov. 7, 2022.
Along with murder, McCormack is charged with three counts of torture and three counts of willful cruelty to a child. Her mother was charged with three counts each of torture and willful cruelty to a child, while her father was charged with murder and similar counts of torture and willful cruelty to a child.
The arrests came after months of investigation by the police, who first responded to a call about a child in distress at a home in Spring Valley on Aug. 30, 2022. Detectives who responded to the call suspected possible child abuse in the home, and Arabella was rushed to a local hospital, where she died.
Arabella's younger sisters, ages 6 and 7, were also removed from the home and placed in foster care. When McCormack's husband, Brian McCormack, who worked as a border patrol officer, was contacted by police about his adopted daughter's death, officials say he fatally shot himself inside his truck near the home.
Even though Rock Church Senior Pastor Miles McPherson said in a previous statement that McCormack had passed multiple background checks that revealed nothing to suggest her life was on track toward tragedy, the lawsuit alleges that individuals at the church were aware that her children were being neglected or abused.
"During the course of her involvement with the church, the Rock Church (through its volunteers and employees) became aware of issues of child neglect and/or abuse relating to Ms. McCormack," the complaint alleges. "After Arabella' s death, church member Janet Horvath reported that she saw A.M. and E.M. in December 2021 at the McCormacks' home and that they looked like 'little ghosts.' She said that Arabella was kept upstairs away from her while she visited. She said that she was concerned for the girls because they appeared 'fragile' and smaller than her own grandchildren."
It is further alleged that McCormack told her prayer group that Arabella had "bad behaviors" and they were wrestling with "spiritual warfare" in the home.
"Ms. Horvath was part of a prayer group at the Rock Church that prayed for the McCormack girls. Ms. McCormack told the prayer group that Arabella had 'bad behaviors,' that they couldn't have people over, and that there was 'spiritual warfare' both appeared younger than their ages due to underdevelopment," the lawsuit states.
A representative of Rock Church declined to comment on the pending litigation when contacted by media outlets.
In his statement to Rock Church congregants last November, McPherson gave no indication that the church had been concerned about abuse in the McCormack home.
"I know when things happen like this there are a lot of questions about how it could have happened, and why it happened. And we have the same questions and we got to go to the Lord for those, for comfort in that situation. It's also bewildering because there were so many background checks that were done," McPherson said in an address.
"She was a volunteer for law enforcement. She was background checked by law enforcement, was background checked by Child Protective Services because she was a foster mother, an adoptive parent, her, and her husband, and obviously, we did a background check," he explained. "After all that and nothing revealed that anything like this would happen, could happen. And so, we would just ask that you would pray for everybody involved. There are a lot of people who do know her and know the family and are struggling with this."