By Kyle Swenson
The deputy medical examiner knew before knocking on the door. There was a grim scene waiting for Eric Tonsfeldt inside the single-story house set among the pine trees outside of Oregon City, Ore. — a tragedy that had played out there before.
It was around 8:45 on March 5, 2017, and the Clackamas County official was responding to a report of a dead newborn.
The child had not been delivered in a hospital. She wasn’t attended to by doctors and nurses. The baby died amid the murmured prayers of friends and family. But Tonsfeldt knew — as everyone else in the county and many beyond all the way up to the state legislature — that this was a familiar occurrence with members of the Followers of Christ Church, a faith-healing sect numbering around 1,000 members.
Tonsfeldt found the newborn’s mother, Sarah Elaine Mitchell, in the master bedroom cradling the dead child in a blanket. As the official later recounted in a probable cause affidavit obtained by KGW8, the child’s father, Travis Lee Mitchell, was also in the room, as was Sarah’s father, Walter White. Tonsfeldt would say that when he questioned the individuals in the room about the death, the answers were “stilted and forced.” No one would make eye contact. Eventually, he learned the baby — Ginnifer — had been born around 2:55 p.m. Hours later, the baby stopped breathing, dying around 7 p.m. As Tonsfeldt examined the child, he noted Ginnifer was 3 pounds, 6 ounces. The baby had been born prematurely at 32 weeks.
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