The Last Victims: A letter to Zariah

Below is an online letter to twelve-year-old Zariah Schatz, the older sister of Lydia Schatz. Four years ago, the girls were adopted from the Republic of Liberia by Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz of Paradise, California. On February 4 and 5, 2010, the couple “biblically” whipped their daughters for hours on end. The children’s “crimes”? Zariah, the Schatzes determined, was a “liar” and a “bad influence” on her sister, and seven-year-old Lydia mispronounced a word during a homeschooling lesson. According to authorities, the Schatzes beat Lydia with 1/4-inch plumbing line for nine hours, taking breaks to pray and reflect. Lydia died from the beatings. Zariah barely survived, having suffered kidney failure and other injuries. A ten-year-old biological son was also injured.

Elizabeth Kevin Schatz Lydia ZariahThe Schatzes did not come up with their disciplinary methods all on their own. They were followers of the Tennessee-based No Greater Joy Ministries, which is operated by a fundamentalist Christian minister named Michael Pearl and his wife, Debi. The Pearls’ book To Train up a Child is hugely popular among Christian homeschooling parents; it has sold more than 650,000 copies and been translated into many foreign languages, according to the Pearls’ website.
Lydia was not the first child to die at the hands of those who follow the Pearls’ teachings. There have been two others: Thirteen-year-old Hana Williams died last May of hypothermia and malnutrition. Her adoptive parents, Carri and Larry Williams, have been charged with murder. In 2008, Lynn Paddock was convicted of first-degree murder for suffocating eight-year-old Sean Paddock by tightly wrapping him in blankets.

The Pearls strongly advocate for the spanking of children—even those who have committed minor infractions—saying that God demands that parents spank. The Pearls suggest that spankers use implements rather than the hand, because “hands are for loving and helping,” despite the fact one study shows that physical punishment with an implement is more likely to lead to physical abuse than if no implement is used.

In particular, the Pearls believe that 1/4-inch plumbing line–the very implement the Schatz’s used to kill Lydia–is ideal for spanking children. “It will fit in your purse or hang around your neck. You can buy them [sic] for $1.00 at Home Depot or any hardware store,” notes Michael Pearl on his website. He adds that sections of the pipe “come cheaper by the dozen and can be widely distributed in every room and vehicle. Just the high profile of their accessibility keeps kids in line.” The Pearls’ book was found in the Schatz home with passages underlined. Witnesses say that both Sean Paddock and Hana Williams were frequently beaten with 1/4-inch plumbing line.

lydia schatz





Pearl, who has had no clinical training in child development or psychology, rejects criticism that his teachings lead parents to abuse their children. He points out that his book warns parents not to spank in anger. “There are always some that act in the extreme,” he says.

My letter to Zariah, written only on this blog, follows.


Dear Zariah,

How many of us could possibly comprehend your pain?

You were taken from your homeland of Liberia, adopted by a couple who already had many children. Perhaps those adults were compassionate on some level, for they also adopted your younger sister Lydia and another small child. Undoubtedly, many were convinced that this man and woman were good people. After all, they were devout Christians who believed in living life according to the Bible.

But we now know the truth. Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz were obsessed with obedience and allowed the words of one minister to justify the abusive actions that grew out of their obsession. Throughout the time that you and Lydia were tortured, your abusers were convinced that their religion required them to whip you. They took breaks to pray to a god they most likely believed was rooting them on.

You nearly died from the whippings, and you lost your dear sister Lydia, whose tiny frame could not withstand the brutality that the Schatz’s inflicted upon her. Experts have compared Lydia’s injuries to those found on the bodies of earthquake and bombing victims. Due to their cruel actions, Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz will spend a long time in prison. How grateful we are that you survived, partly so that you could face your perpetrators at trial and bravely ask them about your beloved sister: “Why did you adopt her? To kill her?” you said.

You must wonder, what kind of country is this, where people injure and kill children in the name of faith; where people take the word of a minister who claims that “God spanks His children”; where people express their religious “freedom” by physically, sexually, and emotionally abusing children?

You may hear about other victims of religious child maltreatment, such as those who are sexually abused by religious leaders who are given so much power that they can easily overpower victims. Or children who are so inculcated with religious dogma that their brains go numb. Or children who die from normally treatable medical conditions, due to the fact that their parents were convinced that prayer, not doctors, would cure them.

It is a sad picture, but I also want you to you know that these perpetrators are in the minority. Most people of faith understand the difference between living according to one’s religious beliefs and being consumed by those beliefs. Most people of faith do not indoctrinate children, but teach them different worldviews. Most people of faith would not sacrifice the health and safety of children to fulfill a twisted religious agenda.

I believe that a majority of Americans feel that a child’s right to a happy, healthy, and safe life trumps everything else, including the right to practice religious rituals. They recognize that faith doctrines—such as those that tell worshipers to spank their kids, that women are inferior to men, or that gays and lesbians are offensive to God—should be left in history books. I believe most Americans would say that the only religious beliefs worth subscribing to are those that promote tolerance, acceptance, and love.

We accept the harsh truth that you are one of many survivors of this kind of abuse. We recognize that religion can lead people to harm children. We admit that child maltreatment happens in religious communities and too often goes ignored. What you have endured is a harsh reminder of what can happen when religion gets into the wrong hands.

But we promise you this: We are committed to eradicating religious child maltreatment. We are talking about it and will continue to talk about it, because raising awareness of the problem is the first step. We are devastated by what happened to you and Lydia. If we could, we would have done whatever we could to ensure that you two were the last victims.

Take good care,

Janet Heimlich

On June 10, 2010, Kevin Schatz pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and torture and was sentenced to two life terms; he will serve a minimum of 22 years. Elizabeth Schatz pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and infliction of unlawful corporal punishment and received a sentence of 13 years. During the trial, Zariah addressed the court. She spoke in a soft voice and occasionally broke down in sobs. She said Lydia had meant the world to her, and she said, “I don’t know what I did to deserve what you did to me.” Full coverage of the Schatz case can be found at these links:


  1. Janet Heimlich
    You give voice to those victims who,before,were unheard.
    You shine light – you expose monsters who would prefer to be unseen.
    I’m honoured to know you – to read your work – to have you on my show.
    ~Louie b.

  2. Child torture is endemic to Christianity.
    One ought to remember the Cloyne report among the latest pieces of evidence as to abuse by catholic institutions, the abuses by priests all over Europe, the horrendous abuses of native children by religious organizations they were placed in care of in Canada.
    A religion whose aim is obedience – to god, to the hierarchy of its institutions – is prone to rather protect the institution than the individual suffering from abuse. It is also a road to unrestrained “discipline” to the utmost those they deem themselves put into charge of, and to view children as property.

    There were and are abuses in secular institutions – but those by religious ones far outweigh any of those, and have been going on for millennia. It is the religious mindset that makes people prone to try to exert power in the name of their god over others, surely only to the best of their souls – the argument of the inquisition.

    • PS – at least those abusing in secular institutions know they are doing wrong – so called humans like the Pearls et. al are proud of their torturers mindset.

    • Diane Gates says:

      To say that “child torture is endemic to Christianity” is a gross exaggeration and not founded on truth or fact. Yes, these people were Christians (or claimed to be) and yes they were monsters but I promise you they were child abusers before they ever read that stupid book. Most normal people would not give a book like that any credence at all.

      • Hi, Diane, thanks for your feedback. While I agree with you that it is stretching things to say that ‘child torture’ is ‘endemic to Christianity,’ it’s mind-boggling just how many ‘normal’ people fall into a trap of following unhealthy child practices because it’s promoted in a religious context. While most cases do not turn out as tragic as the 3 children killed at the hands of follows of Michael Pearl, many members of faith organizations, people often considered to be mainstream, look to scripture, a pastor’s sermon, or the cultural norms as being authoritative enough to give license to some despicable behavior. While children of mentally ill congregants might be at risk for the worst abuses, the focus on complete obedience, forgiveness, sexual purity, etc. all can be used to control and harm children physically and psychologically. I think one way to correct this would be for more religious organizations to better understand child development, perhaps work with a child psychologist. In other words, ignorance is often as much a factor of religious child maltreatment as is mental illness or people being ‘monsters,’ as you put it.

        • Neville Ross says:

          Secular people also spank, like my parents did (and my father used to beat men for a lot of things when I was a child.) What we need in (North) America is an understanding that this is not good, and it should be treated as wife and elder abuse is by the law (you don’t just slap around your spouse, or your elderly parent(s) and get away with it; why should you do so in this instance?)

  3. i found out about what happened to Lydia a couple of weeks ago. i CANNOT believe this and i CANNOT stop thinking about her. i have a 7 year old daughter and all i can think about is that’s my baby. i look at my daughter and wonder why?! and of course i can’t stop myself from thinking… if it was her…. what did she go through?!!! what would she say?!!! i just want to hold her. i want to write my own letter to Zariah if you dont mind…

    dear Zariah-
    i have read the reports about how your sister was murdered. i am so sorry. you and your sister did not deserve to be treated like this. you should have been loved and cherished by this family. they should have seen in you both what i see.
    i see two beautiful, sweet girls who needed and wanted to be loved and cared for like princesses. i see wonderful girls who wanted to be free and have fun. to laugh and play. to dress up and read stories and have tea parties. i wish i had adopted you both.
    i know i dont know you Zariah but i love you. it was not your fault what happened to Lydia. IT WAS NOT YOUR FAULT!! live your life princess. live for you and for Lydia. and know that as long as i live i will never forget you or your baby sister. and i will never stop trying to help others like you. i promise.
    forever your friend

  4. Michael Breen says:

    Jail these assholes and let them rot in solitary confinement until they breath their last poison breath.
    Then leave their corpses in a landfill to rot without proper burial and without any celebration of their foul lives. As for the Pearls, they deserve the same and worse.

  5. Christine Piaf says:

    I’m convinced these “evangelicals” adopt African children just so they can live out some sick slave-owner colonialist fantasies.

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