San Diego Rock Church Pastor Breaks Silence on Former Church Elder Charged With Child-Abuse Death

Former church volunteer accused of murdering her adopted 11-year-old daughter

This undated photo shows the front of the Rock Church San Diego's Point Loma campus.

San Diego Rock Church Pastor Miles McPherson spoke publicly Sunday about the death of 11-year-old Aarabella McCormack. It was the first time he addressed the adopted child’s alleged killing and the arrest of three former church members in connection with her death. That included her adoptive mother Leticia McCormack, and that woman’s parents. 

McCormack served as an ordained elder and ministry leadership coordinator with the church. The church says it severed its relationship with her and revoked her ordained status following her arrest on November 7.

McPherson spoke to the congregation on Sunday, telling parishioners, “We want to pray for everybody involved. All the people who knew her. Our church. I know that when things happen like this, a lot of questions about how it could happen and why it would happen. We have the same questions.”

McCormack and her parents, Adella and Stanley Tom, are accused of abusing and torturing McCormack’s three adopted daughters. McCormack and her father are also accused of murdering Aarabella.

NBC 7 Investigates has been asking what happened to Aarabella since she died on Aug. 30. An ambulance rushed Aarabella to the hospital in the middle of the night, but doctors couldn’t save her. Just hours after she died, investigators say Aarabella’s adoptive father, a U.S. Border Patrol agent, took his own life. That same day, deputies opened a child abuse and homicide investigation.

Photo Illustration off an undated photo of Aarabella
Torriana Florey
Photo Illustration of an undated photo of Aarabella

Aarabella’s two younger sisters, ages 6 and 7, were hospitalized for several days. They are now in the care of a new foster family.

Neighbors and relatives say San Diego County Child Welfare Services placed the girls with the McCormacks in 2017. Their adoptions were finalized in 2019.

"It’s also bewildering because there were so many background checks done,” McPherson told the congregation. “She was a volunteer for law enforcement, background checked by law enforcement. Background checked by Child Protective Services because she was a foster mother. Then an adopted parent, her and her husband. And obviously, we did a background check after all that nothing revealed like anything like this would happen, could happen.”

While McPherson hadn’t spoken publicly until this weekend, a church spokeswoman has been responsive to questions from NBC 7 Investigates over the last two months. She told us the Rock Church did not have any involvement in the fostering or adoption of Aarabella or her sisters.

NBC 7's Kelvin Henry spoke to the young girl's family at a candlelight vigil in her memory.

McPherson then directed people to the church’s website, which posted this statement:

"We are aware that arrests have been made as a result of the investigation by law enforcement concerning the death of Arabella McCormack. We are shocked by what happened and grieve over the death of Arabella, as well as the harm done to her sisters. It’s unimaginable what happened, and we are praying for healing for all of those involved.

The adoptive mother, Leticia, was previously a volunteer with Rock Church. In fact, she volunteered in a number of capacities in various organizations, including a law enforcement agency.

For the Rock, our church has numerous volunteers who serve in a variety of ministries. The church relies on these volunteers to fulfill its mission of helping others in service to God. As a volunteer, Leticia had a limited capacity and was mostly focused on administrative coordination. The Rock Church routinely runs background checks on all of our volunteers with the most recent for Leticia conducted on 10/25/21. Nothing was provided in the background check information we received that would indicate a red flag.

Leticia was not a part of our paid staff, was not a pastor and did not serve in any official pastoral role for the church. Her ordination as an elder was completed at another church and transferred to the Rock in January 2022. She is no longer affiliated with the church and her ordination was suspended at the beginning of the investigation and has now been officially revoked.

A tragedy like this will rightly inspire intense reflection and soul searching by anyone who had interaction with this family. Despite numerous background checks, despite involvement with law enforcement both as a volunteer as well as a member with her husband as a Border Patrol officer, despite government agencies and the courts authorizing adoption and monitoring the children, despite all of this, clearly evil was hidden from obvious view.

It’s shocking and frightening and a reminder that humans are inherently sinners. And sometimes, that sinful drive can lead to extreme behavior. We must remain ever vigilant and must continue to seek God’s love.

As the courts now act, we, like everyone else impacted by this, will hope for resolution and some sense of closure through this process.

In the meantime, we extend our deepest condolences to all that are grieving and continue to pray for understanding and healing. Should you need prayer during this time, please connect with one of our pastoral staff members.

A church spokeswoman told NBC 7 that Aarabella’s biological mother spells her name with two As, but that she was registered at the Rock as Arabella. 

Child and Welfare Services (CWS) has refused to release records tied to Aarabella’s case, citing the ongoing criminal investigation. CWS records are typically confidential. However, California law permits local agencies to release them in cases of child abuse death. 

Leticia McCormack and her parents are scheduled to be back in court on Wednesday for a bail and readiness hearing.

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