MICANOPY, Fla. (WCJB) - Joan Hope is John Neal's paternal grandmother. Neal spent some of his childhood at the House of Prayer in both Waldo, and later, Micanopy.
Both Hope and Neal think the death of Neal's two year old sister Kay was swept under the rug. Hope said she watched for years as neal dealt with torture and abuse brought on by cult leader and "House of Prayer" matriarch Anna Young.
"Like I called Anna mother, I wanted to please Anna like a child would want to please a mom," Neal said.
Hope said, "He was completely brainwashed, he would do things and make little items to give to her to appease her and try to make her like him."
Records show Young has been arrested and served time for several different incidents dating back to the 60's. She was arrested in 1968 in Ohio
for beating a five year old with a stick, arrested again in 1992 on a felony child abuse charge, served 6 months of jail time in 2001 for bathing a 12 year old girl in chemicals.
Neal remembers a woman was forced to leave her child abandoned in Puerto Rico. "She don't know to this day whatever happened to this day whatever happened to her son," he said.
All of her actions were done in the name of God, referencing the Book of Acts, according to Neal.
He said, "How do you get adults brainwashed to the point where they let you take their kids and beat them and abuse them?"
When Neal's mom joined the House of Prayer, Hope said she told her Neal was attending a private school.
"I sent the school board out there to check to see if he was getting an education," Hope said. After that, she said it got worse and that Young demonized her to force Neal to obey. "She would tell little john, 'You want to go see your grandmother the devil,' and he would say, 'Yeah, she's not the devil!' and he would get a beating for that."
She said Young's cult members taunted her at work and around town. "They followed me everywhere and then finally, she said 'you're the devil,'" she said. "I thought my heart was going to come out of my chest because I couldn't say anything I couldn't do anything, I couldn't even raise my voice because John was out there."
After Kay's death, hope said his mother, who was under Young's coercion, should have spoken up.
"He had no choice, he was a child. His sister didn't have any choice, she was only 2. His mother had a choice," said Hope.
Neal said Kay died and was buried in Hawthorne, all without her family knowing. "When my family found out, after the fact that Kay was dead. And my mom evidently found out after the fact too," Neal said.
Neal got out around the age of twelve, was raised by his grandma, and later joined the Air Force. Even though Neal still has scars, he said he also still has faith. "The one thing i learned out there was to trust God."
Young's next court appearance is on February 5th. Her plea is not guilty.
A victim of the House of Prayer cult, active in the 1980's in Micanopy, has spoken out to bring attention to his baby sister's death. It's a story TV20 has been bringing you since cult leader Anna Young was arrested, charged with murder of a different child.
Our reporter Crystal Bailey video chatted with John Neal, who spent some of his childhood at the church. He gives us more insight into what life was like at the House of Prayer.
Neal was about five years old when he, his mom, and his sister, Katonya, started living at the house of prayer in Waldo. The cult later moved to Micanopy.
He said his mom became a cult member under the influence of Young. "If you did something she didn't like, you sinned, by her definition, you got disciplined."
Neal said the atmosphere split families up. Young was the matriarch, and the children were hers to discipline. Everyone called her "Mother Anna."
"I remember Kay having like strong will and Anna was beating her and it's almost like the baby didn't want to cry and Anna just kept beating her until she started crying," Neal said.
Just a toddler, Neal remembers Kay dealing with more abuse than he endured at the age of 6. He and Young's daughter Joy would hit Kay with a stick as she was forced to run around the house.
"To me and Joy it was like a game. I know I treated it like a game. She would make her run in place and make her say, 'Jesus Jesus Jesus,' over again like it was some kind of expedition," Neal said.
He said members of the cult thought they were serving God by listening to her. "Kay was evidently born in sin because my mom was not married when she had her, and Kay had a demon in her so Anna was exorcising this demon out of her which was her excuse for all of her harsh treatment."
He remembers her black and blue bruises, and how she started having seizures. "Last time I remember Kay at the house, I just remember people screaming, and evidently Kay had passed out."
In '83, she died of cardiac arrest. His mom taking the blame, under young's command.
He said, "My mom said, I had complete control of Kay and it was my decision to not to give her medicine which was a complete lie, but of course, Anna told her to say that."
Neal said his family did not even know she died until after she was buried.
After her death, he started getting the brunt of it. "I remember Anna wrapping me up like a mummy with these herbs. She made like a paste of herbs and and wrapped me up all over my whole body and I had this beating."
Neal said getting a bad case of ringworm put him in the hospital. "The doctor had me take off my shirt and she had me take off my pants, she saw the scars. She got law enforcement involved."
He said Young coerced his mom to say he rode his bike through glass. Neal was put in foster care for a few weeks while an investigation took place. When Neal was brought back to the House of Prayer, he said his mom was arrested after not telling law enforcement where he was.
Even adults were beat with boards when they disobeyed, all brainwashed.
"I have a one year old and she'll be two in April and I have a five year old. I see them and my second baby reminds me of Kay," Neal said.
As a father, he learned to have compassion he didn't get as a child. He wants justice for his sister, and with Young facing charges on the murder of a child he knew, known as Moses, he feels close to getting it.
"It'll never go away, you'll never forget it. But it'd be a lot easier to live with knowing that she's paid for what she's done."