Nationwide manhunt underway for cult leader
Thu, 17 Apr 2014 20:36:37 GMT —
CNN -- A
manhunt is underway in several states for a religious leader accused of sexually abusing teenage girls who were members of his cult.
Authorities have charged 52-year-old Victor Barnard with 59 counts of criminal sexual conduct.
"I had no idea anything like that was taking place, none at all," said Church Camp neighbor Dale Reed.
Along a dead-end road west of Finlayson, Minn., Victor Barnard built a religious camp he called River Road Fellowship.
Reed said the group was self-sufficient, butchering their own meat, growing food, and kept largely to themselves.
"They did stay by themselves," he said. "They didn't mingle with the rest of the township or the rest of the people in the territory."
But according to investigators, Barnhard told the cult members he represented Christ.
Convincing them to give up their teenage daughters where they lived separately with Barnard at what he called Shepherd's Camp.
"And he was able to use spiritual coercion, spiritual intimidation, and creating a very large dependence on him as the adult of the group, and he took advantage of that," said Steven Blackwell, Pine County Chief Deputy.
The girls saw their parents only occasionally. According to investigators, Barnhard began having sex with girls as young as 13, telling them he represented God's flesh, it was okay and not to tell anyone.
"These 59 counts are all individual acts against these two victims and we're hoping other victims will come forward, more acts to charge," Blackwell said.
After 12 years of abuse, one of the girls told her story to investigators.
Barnhard fled the camp with some of his religious followers and with police in pursuit.