(DAILY BEAST) -- His family would not be notified for nearly a week, but on the afternoon of May 14, 2013, a young man named Kwesi Sample drowned off the coast of Holden Beach, North Carolina. The 21-year-old was participating in a GPS-guided scavenger hunt known as “geocaching” with other young adults in his church, an Ohio-based megachurch called Dwell. The group was attempting to swim several hundred meters to locate a particularly difficult “cache,” but by the time they realized the distance was too far, it was too late. “As they swam across the ocean inlet, Sample began to struggle and went underwater,” an Ohio appeals court later wrote. “The others were unable to save him.” (The church has said in court filings that it notified Sample's family within hours of the incident.)
In a wrongful death suit that followed, Sample’s family took aim at Dwell, alleging that church leaders were negligent in organizing the activity. But their complaints went well beyond the day’s tragic events. In various legal filings, the family claimed church leaders exercised far-reaching authority over its members, stretching past Sunday sermons and into almost every corner of their lives. (The church called this idea “absurd” and said Sample’s lawyers took their teachings out of context.) It purposefully recruited impressionable young members, the family claimed, and taught them to blindly follow leaders who were “chosen by God.” Shortly before his death, they said, Sample had even moved into Dwell group housing to receive “spiritual teachings” and “guidance on how to live and worship” from its leaders.
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“A lot of people who leave [Dwell] feel [like] they’ve been isolated; they feel like they’ve been manipulated,” Adam Richards, an attorney for the family, told the Daily Beast in a recent interview. “And then one day they wake up. And sometimes it’s too late, and sometimes it’s not.”