11 Jul 2008

A Writer in Bridgewater Found Way Out of The Way International Cult

Litchfield County Times - July 10, 2008

by Jack Coraggio

BRIDGEWATER-In the May 14, 1971 issue of Life magazine, spread across almost two full pages is a closely-cropped and candid headshot of a young Kristen Skedgell, gazing innocently into the distance with a kind of mesmerized captivation. At 15 years old, her doe eyes and gentle smile are delicately framed by long, wavy chestnut hair, rendering her the portrait of the unabashedly idealistic flower child so often found in the Simon & Garfunkel generation.

Indeed, she was a lovely girl and very photogenic, but there is something disconcerting about her captivated stare. It's almost as if the spellbound look on her face is more of a trance than it is childlike wonderment.

The photograph's accompany­ing article, "The Groovy Christians of Rye, N.Y.," was a feature piece about the now controversial Christian fundamentalist group known as The Way International, and its then growing band of exceedingly loyal followers. As detailed in the article, Ms. Skedgell was one of those burgeoning die-hards and, as she now laments, she maintained that fervor for the following decade and a half.

Ms. Skedgell, who has lived in Bridgewater with her second husband since the mid-1990s, details those 15 troubled years in a book she recently had published, "Losing the Way; A Memoir of Spiritual Longing, Manipulation, Abuse and Escape."

As her firsthand account develops over the course of the 200-page memoir, Ms. Skedgell argues that The Way was not so much a Christian fundamentalist group as it was a predatory cult. And as she looks back, her hypnotized Life magazine stare reflects the early stages of what was essentially a brainwashing scheme, one designed to prey on the lonely and spiritually thirsty.

"I had an adolescent need to belong; the desire to belong was strong in me," said Ms. Skedgell, explaining how she became so deeply controlled by The Way. "That and I think I was looking for a father figure. All these events created the perfect storm for [manipulation.]"

It wasn't that her father wasn't around, but he spent far more time with the bottle than with Ms. Skedgell or her two brothers. Her mother, who was instrumental in Ms. Skedgell eventual exit from The Way, was a good-hearted person and an intellectual, but perhaps a little too disconnected from her daughter, never even aware of the sexual molestation the adolescent Ms. Skedgell suffered at the hands of neighborhood ne'er-do-wells.

At the age of 14, Ms. Skedgell tagged along with some friends to a Bible meeting in the apartment of a prominent New York City disc jockey. There, she first learned of the love, compassion and acceptance-three qualities that were in short supply at her home-one could find through "the Word," which was code for the teachings of The Way's founder, "The Doctor" Victor Paul Wierwille.

Dr. Wierwille-who received a doctorate in theology from Pikes Peak Bible College and Seminary, a non-accredited institution-was ordained by The United Church of Christ in 1941, but separated from that institution in 1957. His reasons for leaving are unclear, but it was after his departure that his own unorthodox ministry, The Way International, really took off.

In The Way, Dr. Wierwille taught a very preliminary elucidation of Christianity, one that rejects the traditional Holy Trinity notion that Jesus Christ is God. However, The Way does accept Jesus as both a savior and the Son of God.

Such distinctions aside, Dr. Wierwille apparently saw a lot of potential recruits in the 1960s counterculture movement, and through heavy street promotion, he eventually built membership up to about 100,000.

"Oh, he had campuses, a private jet, a training center, one of those big tour buses you see rock bands ride around in," Ms. Skedgell noted of the many amenities Dr. Wierwille acquired with the money of his followers.

Believers worked part-time and gave their earnings to The Way. Classes were conducted at a cost. And for a fee, many recruits, including Ms. Skedgell, were sent to The Way Corps in Kansas, which was a paramilitary training ground to prepare followers for Armageddon, or perhaps the takeover of the "illuminati," which apparently was an esoteric clan of mortal enemies intimately connected with the devil.

When not resisting illuminati propaganda or working their part-time jobs, followers were expected to be "witnessing," a k a recruiting, the unenlightened.

"There was a lot of deception involved in witnessing. We would befriend somebody, be nice and friendly, build a relationship and invite them to a meeting, but it all had a hidden agenda," said Ms. Skedgell, who at one point likened the ritual to the infamous get-rich-quick "pyramid schemes." "But we really felt that we were here to help humanity and bring peace to the world. The leaders would make money from the followers, but from our point of view, we were bringing the truth."

Despite Dr. Wierwille's having such a vast constituency of believers, which ranged all over the U.S. and into other countries, Ms. Skedgell said she developed a personal relationship with him very early on. From her perspective, she was a naïve child who saw him as a strong patriarch, a figure she was desperate for in her life. She put her faith in him and the Word, and never questioned his absolute authority, even if at times it seemed contradictory-or worse.

Ms. Skedgell, who can't help but observe how Dr. Wierwille's name sounds like werewolf, remembered when the sexual advances started, to which she reluctantly complied. His rationale, according to her book was that woman is made for man and man is made for God. Her rationale was: Even though it kind of feels like incest, the Doctor says it's OK.

According to Ms. Skedgell, Dr. Wierwille, who was old enough to be her father, taught a Christian Family and Sex course, which would use street lingo to describe sexual acts in uncomfortably graphic detail. He often informed students that God's position on intercourse is more lenient now in the "Age of Grace," she said.

Dr. Wierwille wasn't the only minister in the group to take advantage of the susceptible Ms. Skedgell, she recalled. Though it was clandestine, the sex was, in her words, "rampant." Even after she married fellow devotee Alec-whose name, just like that of everyone in the book except for Dr. Wierwille's, was changed-Dr. Wierwille still expected her to continue with their affair, explaining away the sin of adultery with his own distorted interpretation of the Bible.

Apparently, as far as Dr. Wierwille was concerned, The Word was not an interpretation, but the only manner the Bible could be perceived. Ms. Skedgell remembers thinking she understood that, even when she didn't.

"Inside, I am frantic, pedaling to keep up with what the Doctor is saying, to keep up with him...It is either embrace what he says or quit the ministry entirely. If I do that I might as well die," Ms. Skedgell writes in the book, right after Dr. Wierwille instructed her, for the good of The Way, to lie about their first sexual tryst.

"Suddenly, something shifts deep inside of me. Now I get it: 'all things are pure to the pure.' A great door has opened and the Doctor has ushered me into the deeper mysteries of the Word, where grace reigns supreme. I promise the Doctor I will keep his secret."

The speed with which she jumped from confusion to understanding is The Way's brainwashing in action. According to Ms. Skedgell, "We were taught to see everything in terms of black-and-white, because there is no in between."

Ms. Skedgell recalled once speaking with her biological father, who broke free of his alcohol addiction a couple of years before his death, about the Bible. At one point in the conversation, she was taken aback by his use of the qualifier "in my opinion" to describe what he believed was the best biblical verse. The Doctor never gave opinions-he only stated facts.

As for her now ex-husband Alec, with whom she has two children, their marriage turned sour early in the honeymoon stage. She claims he was abusive and had an explosive temper. But he was also corrupted by the control of The Way. After she finally admitted to him the affair she was having with the Doctor, he was surprisingly compassionate and apologetic, but after a "man-to-man" conversation with Dr. Wierwille, Alec suddenly shifted the blame to her, Ms. Skedgell said.

For the sake of their children, both of whom are now adults, she has kept a cordial relationship with Alec, Ms. Skedgell said, and it's easier now that he has left The Way and remarried.

"He told our daughter that it is too bad he was married to a writer, because now I'm going to write about the worst time in his life as well," she noted.

Since word of her book got out, Ms. Skedgell has received seven e-mails from women who also alleged sexual manipulation by the Doctor, who died in 1985. His departure came not long before a very confused, downtrodden and suicidal Ms. Skedgell escaped Alec and The Way with the help of her mother, who was living in Roxbury at the time.

Though she is free of the ministry's influence, more than 20 years after the Doctor's death, Ms. Skedgell did obey one more of his requests. He once asked her, during post-coital "afterglow," as he referred to it, to write a posthumous book about him, because "people need to see the heart of a man of God."

"I cried at the thought of losing him," she states in the book, "but I promised him I would do whatever he asked."

After his death, The Way International went into decline, and now has a mere fraction of the followers it had in the 1970s.

As for Ms. Skedgell, she went on to study at Johns Hopkins University, Yale Divinity School and Columbia University, where she learned to become a clinical social worker. It took her "years before she could even step foot in a church," but she has since made her peace with God.

She said writing the book was "cathartic and therapeutic" but she still urges people with family members under the influence of cult-like groups to maintain consistent contact with them, consult an "exit counselor" and set up an intervention. However, she warns against deprogramming measures, which often employ harsh, counter-brainwashing tactics.

"You know, being in a cult, it's kind of like when people talk about killing a frog by putting it in slowly boiling water," said Ms. Skedgell. "It's the same kind of phenomena. You just don't even realize you are getting sucked in until it is too late."

Ms. Skedgell will be signing copies of "Losing the Way" at the Hickory Stick Bookshop at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

This article was found at:



  1. The history of a cult leader

    By Tom Lyden MyFox News, April 17, 2014

    He's the focus of a nationwide manhunt, but there are still many questions about Victor Barnard. One stands out more than any other: What makes a man like that, and why would so many people follow him?

    To begin to understand Victor Barnard, it's important to know who he followed. When he was just 19, Barnard met a charismatic religious leader who had tens of thousands of followers in 35 countries -- but even those who knew him back then tell Fox 9 News that something happened before Barnard went rogue with the Bible.

    According to friends from that time, Barnard was a party animal back in 1979, which is when he graduated from the prestigious Breck School. In fact, they were surprised to hear he'd found God the following year in Ohio after he met the man who would become his mentor -- Dr. Victor Wierwille, the founder of a religious sect called The Way International.

    Karl Kahler took theology classes with Barnard, and wrote a book on The Way International titled "The Cult that Snapped," and he told Fox 9 News that Barnard had charismatic qualities but did not stand out as unusual in Way Corps training in Kansas and Ohio in the 1980s.

    "I just knew him as a mellow guy, nice guy," Kahler recalled. "Not a huge personality, not a leader of his peers."

    Kahler and former members of The Way International say there was a culture of adultery in the group.

    "I have heard from women who say he had a way with the ladies -- a seductive personality with women and used it," Kahler said of Barnard.
    Wierwille was accused of brainwashing and having sex with female followers -- as was his successor, Craig Martindale. Hundreds left the group in the late 80s, and Barnard was one of them.

    So, how exactly does someone become the leader of a cult -- someone brazen enough to dress like Jesus and convince parents that he should have sex with their young daughters?

    "He made it clear he talked to God on a regular basis," Jess Schweiss said.
    Barnard began networking with other former members of The Way International -- like Schweiss's parents, who followed Barnard to Rush City when she was just 6 years old.

    "At first, I thought he was a very scary person," she admits.

    Barnard's own biography, obtained by the Fox 9 Investigators, details sermons he gave around the Twin Cities in the early 1990s, and his theology was becoming more radical.

    There were pilgrimages to Gooseberry Falls, which Barnard considered sacred ground -- but it wasn't until 1996 that the River Road Fellowship christened Shepherd's Camp in northern Pine County. Barnard had 150 followers by then, and he began taking the firstborn daughters as his so-called "maidens."

    Barnard's former followers told Fox 9 that he may have learned some techniques in The Way International but took things to a new level at Shepherd's Camp, finding words in the Bible here and there to justify his own carnal appetites.

    "Victor would say at times, 'Age doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that I'm in my 40s and you're a teenager,'" Schweiss said.

    A spokesperson for The Way International confirmed that Barnard got a degree in theology in 1986 before leaving in 1990; however, they insist he never held any leadership position while he was in the group.

    Additionally, the spokesperson said The Way International considers adultery of any kind to be an abomination.


  2. Alleged cult leader Victor Barnard charged with molesting 'Maidens'

    by Tom Lydon, MyFox9 April 15, 2014

    PINE CITY, Minn. (KMSP) - Prosecutors in Pine County, Minnesota have charged alleged cult leader Victor Barnard with 59 counts of sexual misconduct involving two of his underage followers after a FOX 9 investigation.


    Police say Barnard is currently a fugitive, with a nationwide warrant issued on April 11 that specifically states that his followers treat him "like a rock star."

    Barnard was last known to be in the Spokane, Wash., area and may know police are after him. The borders and airports are being monitored, but detectives believe Barnard's followers may be shuffling him from home to home, like an elaborate sort of shell game.

    The Pine County Sheriff's Office told Fox 9 News they missed Barnard at one house by just one week, but they are still is working with the state of Washington and Homeland Security to apprehend Barnard. Anyone with information on his whereabouts should call 320-629-8342.


    The women, now adults, were members of the River Road Fellowship along with their parents and about 140 followers. The women told FOX 9 that when they were just 12 and 13 years old, and with their parents permission, they went to live with Barnard at a place called Shepherd's Camp near the town of Finlayson, Minn., where they were part of a group of 10 young women known as the Maidens.

    The women say Barnard had sexual encounters with the two of them, and the other Maidens, over a decade long period.

    Barnard and the majority of the alleged cult's members left the Pine County area in 2008 when allegations first surfaced and have since moved to the Seattle and Spokane areas of Washington.


    For 15 years, Jess Schweiss has been waiting for someone to truly believe her and understand her life in a religious cult she still feels she hasn't completely escaped.

    "These are people I've known since I was a toddler, people I grew up with," she told Fox 9 News. "They were, at one point, the only people I knew."

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  3. Schweiss and her friend, Lindsey Tornambie, were guitarists in the band -- and the youngest of a group of 10 girls known as "the Maidens," first-born daughters forced to leave in their parents and live in a compound called Shepherd's Camp.

    VIDEO: Victim says 'I'm even'

    The girls were tasked with tending to Barnard, who dressed like Jesus and told them his word was the word of God -- but beginning when the girls were 12 and 13, they were told to visit Barnard's cabin. That's where they say they were sexually abused by Barnard, who even asked their parents permission.

    "I still had a conscience; I knew it was wrong," Schweiss said. "My parents and I hadn't even had 'the talk." I had just gotten my period a couple months before."

    Schweiss tracked the sexual encounters with Barnard in her calendar, and on Tuesday, every one of those X marks became a felony charge. Even so, it's a bittersweet moment because if he is caught and brought to trial, Schweiss knows she may have to testify against her own parents, who are still with the group.

    "I don't look at them as my parents anymore," she admitted. "They weren't the parents I wanted or needed. My parents, the people I grew up with as a child, don't exist anymore."

    Now that the hunt is on, Schweiss believes that Barnard's remaining followers will protect him with their lives, believing him to be a kind of Messiah -- one who Schweiss says stole her childhood.

    "I feel bad in one sense that I am taking Victor's life away from him by putting him behind bars, but then again, he took my life away from me, which I should have had," she said. "So, I feel that -- for lack of better words -- I think I'm even."


    A FOX 9 Investigation details how despite efforts of the Pine County Sheriff, the case had remained in limbo for 5 years despite credible allegations against Barnard from the two women.

    March 6: Pine County attorney reviews case against alleged cult leader

    Read the charges against Barnard at http://www.scribd.com/doc/218386489/Barnard-Complaint


  4. Minister sexually abused young Maidens in Minnesota camp for years

    by: PAM LOUWAGIE, JENNA ROSS and PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune April 15, 2014

    FINLAYSON, Minn. - Lindsay Tornambe was just 13 years old when she was chosen to be “sacrificed to God,” she remembers.

    That announcement in July 2000 came from a minister who led an insular faith community that included her family in central Minnesota. As Tornambe sat in the congregation with her parents, she remembers the minister calling out a list of 10 girls for a position of honor. He would later call them “maidens.”

    Soon, her parents dutifully dropped her off at his isolated camp, where what she now calls a nightmare of sexual abuse went on for about nine years.

    Pine County authorities announced Tuesday that the minister, 52-year-old Victor A. Barnard, is now facing 59 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct involving his chosen maidens.

    Barnard ruled “like a rock star” over the camp and sexually exploited girls and young women at his whim while they lived apart from their families, according to court papers, which spell out the alleged abuses against two unnamed teens.

    Barnard had not been apprehended Tuesday evening but was believed to be in Washington state, where authorities have begun a manhunt for him. He is the subject of a nationwide warrant.

    Pine County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Steven Blackwell said Tuesday that the 59 counts address only the alleged rapes of the two women who have so far spoken to law officers and that he is confident Barnard has more victims.

    “We are hoping to find more that are willing to come forward,” Blackwell said. “I don’t know how we couldn’t think that” there are more girls and women abused in Barnard’s “secret little world,” he added.

    The criminal complaint lays out the experiences of two of the girls, now women and identified in the document as “B” and “C.” Tornambe, who is now living in the Washington, D.C., area, confirmed in a phone interview Tuesday that she is one of the girls described in the charges, which she hasn’t seen.

    She said she was relieved to hear that Barnard is facing charges. “To know that they actually care, that people actually do care about what happened means so much,” she said.

    The Maidens Group

    Tornambe said she first met Barnard when she was 9. Living in Pennsylvania, her parents had been following his ministry and home schooling their children. The family visited Minnesota a lot, she said, and eventually moved to join the congregation near Finlayson when she was 11.

    They lived and worked there and had little contact with the outside world, she said.

    It became clear sometime after her name was called at the meeting with the congregation that her move to live with Barnard was intended to be permanent. “My parents dropped me off July 23, 2000,” Tornambe said. “Victor had us celebrate it every year, it was like our anniversary.”

    Within about a month of the move, she said, Barnard talked to her about sex. He used terms she didn’t understand, and he grew angry about it, thinking she was lying about not understanding. She said he raped her for the first time then and continued sexually assaulting her over the course of nine years. The frequency varied from about once a month to about five times a month, she said.

    “If I wasn’t being spiritual or following his orders, he wouldn’t have sex with us,” she said. “If we were doing well, it was almost like he rewarded us.” She rarely saw her parents, though they lived only about 5 miles away, she said.

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  5. The complaint says that females ages 12 to 24 were in the Maidens Group and that Barnard would preach to them about giving themselves to God and never marrying. They were sometimes called “Alamoth,” a biblical word referencing virginity, the document says. Barnard taught the girls that he represented Jesus and that he had left his wife and children to live on camp property, telling the larger congregation that the move was so he could dedicate himself to God.

    Tornambe said she tried to leave the group once, when she was 15. Barnard took back a ring, a veil and other gifts he had given her before she went home to her parents, she said, and her mother cried for a week with disappointment. When Barnard called clergy members, the maidens and their parents together for a meeting shortly afterward, he talked about damnation from God. Fearful, Tornambe went back with Barnard.

    “I was really scared, and I didn’t know what receiving damnation from God would be like,” she said. “I ended up just staying.”

    Robbed of childhood

    On a rural dirt road 5 miles southwest of Finlayson, the Salvation Army now runs the Northwoods Camp, a rustic collection of century-old cabins and newer buildings. When this property was owned by the River Road Fellowship, which included about 150 people, it was home to “Shepherd’s Camp,” where Barnard brought his maidens. He lived in the camp’s “lodge” and would call for one girl or another “when he wanted to have sexual intercourse with her,” the charges say.

    According to the complaint, “B” told authorities that Barnard explained that Jesus had Mary Magdalene and other women as followers and that King Solomon had many concubines, adding that “God’s word” made having sex with him normal. She told authorities that Barnard warned her not to tell anyone about the sex, that he would hit her when angered and that other girls were called “to see Barnard in the same manner,” according to court documents.

    A few years later, Tornambe said, she left permanently. She had traveled to Brazil with another one of the maidens who was originally from that country, and she decided there that she wanted out of the religion. When she came back to the United States, the group had moved to Washington state, she said. She went to live with her parents, who had by then moved to Pennsylvania. They still had pictures of Barnard in their house, she said, and continued to send money to him.

    She stopped going to church, she said, and started to adapt to the outside world that was foreign from the insular one where she had grown up.

    “I didn’t know anything. We made all our own clothes. I didn’t know anything about the Internet or cellphones,” she said. She took jobs working at a health club and waitressing, eventually becoming a nanny.

    After ringing in 2012 at a New Year’s party with cousins who happily talked about their futures, she decided she’d been robbed of too much of her childhood. That week, she called authorities to tell her story.

    Another victim

    The criminal complaint details the story of another girl, called “C,” that is similar to Tornambe’s.

    C said her abuse began in 2000, when she was 12. She lived with nine other girls and also rarely saw her family. C said Barnard also told her that the sex was ordained by God.

    In February 2001, Barnard, C and her parents met. He told her family that he might have sex with her, even though that had already been occurring.

    That month, C was part of a ceremony that Barnard called the “Salt Covenant,” a pledge by the girls to remain unmarried and loyal to Barnard until death.

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  6. C also said a calendar was kept in the kitchen that chronicled when the other girls would have sex with Barnard, though all the while the girls would never speak to one another about what was happening.

    C separated from the group several times in June 2008 until leaving for good and moving to Wisconsin in September 2009. She became depressed and attempted suicide in 2011. Her brother, also formerly part of the fellowship, confronted her. She then told him about the abuse.

    Community on its own

    The story of both girls, told in the charges, has rocked the normally quiet community near Minnesota’s eastern border.

    From his carefully kept house, Jay Gault would sometimes see women and girls across the dirt road, in the camp property’s woods, tapping trees for maple syrup.

    But when he would go get his mail, they would scatter, said Gault, 61. “They’d go back in the woods. They wouldn’t look at you.”

    In an area where drivers wave when passing one another, neighbors noticed that the people at the camp “kept to themselves,” as several put it.

    Dick Bowser, who recently retired from East Central Energy, said the church wouldn’t let power company or fire department employees on the property — “and when they did let you in, they watched you very closely.”

    “It was strange,” Bowser said.

    The men sometimes left to do carpentry or construction work, but “you didn’t see the women very much,” he said. Bowser, 60, lives down the road, but even from that distance, he’d hear them, faintly, chanting and singing.

    Then, a few years ago, the camp cleared out. Gault noticed that businesses affiliated with the congregation — a construction company among them — suddenly closed, as well. Then word came about the alleged sexual abuse. “It’s been the buzz around here,” Gault said, shaking his head.

    “I didn’t expect it to be anything good that was going on down there,” Bowser said. “But I certainly didn’t expect what it’s looking like it’s turning out to be.”

    Worried for her sisters

    Now 27, Tornambe said life is still an adjustment.

    The criminal complaints say that Pine County sheriff’s investigator Matt Ludwig told “B’s” parents about the abuse in June 2012 and that her mother “did not want to hear it.”

    Her father agreed to speak with Ludwig, explaining that he allowed his daughter to live away from them because she seemed happy.

    He described the “atmosphere in the congregation and said it is a very powerful force to face the idea of losing everything — family, home, friends, businesshttp://images.intellitxt.com/ast/adTypes/icon1.png and being cast out of the church — if you do not go along with what Barnard wants you to do,” according to the charges.

    B’s father recalled Barnard coming to him and rationalizing his having sex with the girls. The father “felt pressured to not say anything,” the complaint continued. “[The father] said he did not know what he was thinking at the time but just remembers feeling so much pressure to not become an outcast and lose everything he had.”

    Tornambe has had bouts of depression where she considered suicide, she said. She physically hurt herself, she said, feeling that actual pain was better than trying to confront her emotional pain.

    “For so many years it seemed like I’d never have the chance to … even know who I was … we didn’t really have a chance to think for ourselves,” she said. “We were told what time to get up, what time to go to bed, what we were eating, when we were going to sew.”

    Tornambe decided to speak out publicly, she said, to try to stop Barnard. Her mother and two sisters are still involved with him, she said. She hopes telling her story will help other victims, too, she said.

    “I definitely don’t want Victor hurting anyone else.”


  7. Friends recall rise and fall of Victor Barnard

    by JENNIFER BROOKS and JENNA ROSS , Star Tribune staff writers April 19, 2014

    Friends recall how a kid from Minneapolis fell in with the Way and lost his.

    Long before he formed the River Road Fellowship, minister-turned-fugitive Victor Barnard was just a kid playing hockey along Minneapolis’ River Road.

    Today, Barnard is the target of a multistate manhunt, as investigators look into charges that he was a cult leader who kept a flock of girls and young women, whom he called “The Maidens,” as concubines. But for the people who knew and loved him, those headlines are hard to reconcile with the bright, charming boy and talented athlete they remember.

    “I always thought I’d be seeing him on TV,” said his father, Stanley Barnard. “I thought it would be the Olympics, not like this.”

    Two young women have stepped forward to accuse Barnard, who led the isolated River Road Fellowship in Finlayson, of sexually abusing them for years, beginning when they were just 12 and 13. Authorities in Washington State are searching, but have yet to locate Barnard.

    It’s a far different future than the one expected for young Vic Barnard, whose prospects once seemed bright and limitless — until he fell in with the Way, and lost his way.

    A gifted student and athlete, he earned a scholarship to the elite Breck prep school, then still at its old home on River Road in Minneapolis. By the time he graduated in 1979, he was class president, captain of the hockey team and a varsity player on the baseball and football teams. Friends remember him as the kind of kid who could turn heads just by walking into a room.

    “He had a lot of charisma — a big personality,” classmate Mark Gillman recalled. “He knew a lot of people and everybody knew him.”

    Tough home life

    Barnard got a scholarship to Hobart College in upstate New York, where he made the varsity hockey squad his freshman year.

    But Barnard’s life wasn’t quite as happy as his big smile in the high school yearbook made it seem. His parents divorced when he was six and he and his three sisters were raised by a mother who struggled with deepening mental illness.

    “My ex-wife, his mother, was bipolar. Of course, back then, we didn’t even know what that was,” his father said.

    Victor’s mother, Nancy, started calling him repeatedly while he was away at college, saying “all these nutsy things,” Stanley Barnard said. Victor “was crying in his room,” a day after one of the disturbing phone calls from his mother, Stanley Barnard recalled. Someone walked by and said, “‘You look like you need Jesus in your life.’” That stranger was named Reggie, a recruiter from the Way International, a religious sect based out of Ohio.

    That’s when “the problem started,” his father said.

    A different path

    The next thing his friends and family knew, Victor had quit the hockey team, dropped out of Hobart and headed to Kansas to attend the Way College in Emporia. His graduation photo shows him smiling proudly, holding a leather-bound Bible. Soon, he began sounding out his friends about the Way. If they weren’t interested, he cut ties.

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  8. He came out to visit his friend Gillman, who was going to school in Wisconsin and shared a ride with Barnard back to Minneapolis that weekend. “He brought up the Way. I didn’t really bite on that. … I never talked to him again.”

    In the parlance of the Way, it was known as “mark and avoid,” a technique of shunning those with different beliefs and views. Some of his friends got a harder sell, including his former high school girlfriend, who asked not to be identified.

    “He came home from school that year just so pumped up about [the Way], and wanted me to join him and go to these classes with him: the ‘Power for Abundant Living’ classes,” she recalled. Barnard had a regional manager in the sect follow her and call her at all hours, trying to deprive her of sleep, she claims.

    Eventually, Barnard and his Way colleagues wore her down and persuaded her to sign up for the class — and to sign over one of her paychecks in the process. That’s when her family stepped in.

    Her father and brother went with her to the class and insisted on a refund. Then, she said, she saw the dark side of the group that had been wooing her for weeks.

    “This person, who had been just lovely to me all summer, turned on me and started using all sorts of horrible words,” she said. “They said, ‘Get out of this house. I don’t want any more communication with you, nor will Victor have any more communication with you.’ I never saw Victor again.”

    Now, with Barnard’s name and face all over the news, she is haunted by thoughts of the Maidens.

    “I was so sad for these girls,’” she said. “I was helped, because I had the support of my family, but they have been left with nothing.”

    The Way’s ways

    Barnard was one of nearly 400 followers of the Way International who in 1983 entered its leadership training program called the “Way Corps.” Karl Kahler was another.

    Kahler, who joined the Way International in 1980 at age 16, remembers Barnard as “a friendly, smiling, mellow people person,” he said Friday. “I didn’t view him as a real leader of his peers or a hard-charging personality.” But, he added, “I can see where he had the charismatic qualities to develop a following.”

    In the four-year program, the young men and women learned everything from how to shake hands to how to climb rocks. They practiced leading weddings and funerals. They studied public speaking. “We were trained to be leaders — people who could get up in front of a crowd,” said Kahler, now the national editor of the San Jose Mercury News.

    Reading about the charges against Barnard, Kahler sees echoes of Victor Paul Wierwille, the Way’s former leader, who died in 1985.

    Kahler, author of “The Cult That Snapped,” cited a speech in which Wierwille says that King David is not to be criticized for adultery because every woman in the kingdom belongs to the king. There was “a culture of adultery” in the Way, he said. “There were plenty of leaders who thought it was their right to have sex with their followers.”

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  9. The Way International splintered after Wierwille’s death, Kahler said. “The ministry virtually collapsed,” he said. “Lots of new leaders arose, left the ministry and took their followers with them.”

    Building a following

    By 1990, Barnard had returned to Minneapolis, registering a business, Lost and Found Enterprises, to a home in north Minneapolis.

    The following year he and his friend and fellow Way member David Larsen moved to Rush City, Minn. to homes along another River Road. They rented state parks or resorts to put on religious retreats but then began playing with the idea of creating a camp. Larsen heard about a former Christian camp on a lake in Finlayson called the Shepherd’s Inn.

    Barnard and other leaders envisioned the new property, which they called Shepherd’s Camp, as a place for retreats and discipleship.

    For Stanley Barnard that simple life of growing their own food, running small artisan businesses and raising goats and sheepdogs, is what he saw on his occasional visits.

    “There was no cult going on, or anything like that,” he said. “They wanted to be self-sufficient and study the Bible.”

    But according to the charges released last week, Barnard persuaded parents in the isolated community to send 10 girls and young women to live together at the Shepherd’s Camp in a position of honor as the “maidens.” Barnard ruled “like a rock star” over the camp and would allegedly call for one maiden or another from “the Lodge,” where he lived, to have sex with him.

    One of the women, Lindsay Tornambe, told investigators that a month after becoming a maiden at age 13, Barnard raped her. He continued sexually assaulting her over the course of nine years.

    Barnard taught the girls that he represented Jesus, the charges say, and that “sex with him was not wrong because he was a Man of God and she would remain a virgin because of it.” The charges are based on the accounts of Tornambe and another former maiden, and multiple former members of River Road Fellowship confirmed Barnard’s power over the group.

    Those are difficult charges for Barnard’s family and former friends to read.

    “I’m not saying he didn’t do something wrong,” said Stanley Barnard, who has not heard from his son in a very long time. Stanley Barnard saw the influence Victor had over the members of his congregation, including one of his own sisters. “He was the accepted leader of the whole thing … They idolized him. I’m sure it all eventually went to his head.”

    Looking back, Larsen sees now how Barnard’s whole purpose with the camp shifted from fellowship to cloaking the alleged sexual assaults. Barnard had always been a controlling person, Larsen said, “but not anything like what he became.”

    “Everything became about trying to cover it up, control it, hide it,” Larsen said. “To me the real story is how something can start off good and end up so raunchy.”

    Star Tribune staff writer Pam Louwagie contributed to this report.


  10. Caught in a cults dark embrace

    By Jenna Ross and Pam Louwagie, Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 27, 2014

    Victor Barnard played the shepherd, wearing linen clothes and sometimes wielding a shepherd’s crook.

    The minister kept his flock close, urging members of the River Road Fellowship to move to four clusters of properties in this rural area and discouraging the girls from traveling to town. As he grew more controlling, he warned his followers against those who might turn against him — calling them wolves in sheep’s clothing.

    “That always gets to me now,” former congregant Micah Vail said. “He used that analogy over and over. … It turned out he was the one who was playing everybody.”

    Barnard, 52, is now the center of a nationwide manhunt after Pine County prosecutors charged him with using his status within the sect to coerce girls into having sex with him. Two women told investigators that Barnard raped them after they were chosen, at ages 12 and 13, to live near him as part of an honored and cloistered group of “maidens.” He faces 59 counts of first- and third-degree criminal sexual conduct.

    In interviews since the charges, several former congregants said they are saddened — but not shocked — by the allegations after reflecting on how Barnard increasingly cut the fellowship off from society. The ministry changed, too, as Barnard introduced new rules under the guise of religion. It ended as a place where adultery and sex abuse could have secretly flourished, they said.

    Such an isolated religious sect is the “perfect environment for abusers to victimize kids,” said Stephen Kent, a sociology professor at the University of Alberta who researches alternative religions.

    Oftentimes, leaders do not answer to any outside authority, “so there’s no accountability,” Kent said. They create structures to have exclusive access to children. Then they use religion to “cloak their misbehavior.”

    A simpler life

    At first, there was no camp. No leader, even. Small groups of former followers of the Way International, an Ohio-based sect that splintered in the mid-1980s, would gather in homes to study the Bible and, when spring came, sing around a campfire.

    After meeting through the Way and moving to Rush City, Minn., in 1991, Barnard and David Larsen pledged to one another that this fellowship would not fall to the same fate as the Way, which was plagued by allegations of adultery.

    “We openly talked about it, addressed it, that it was wrong — that we would never go that route,” Larsen said, his eyes wide. “We even made a commitment, a personal commitment to each other that we would never allow that kind of thing.”

    A few of the Twin Cities-based fellowships united behind Barnard, and more followed, until eventually the handsome preacher shifted from fellowship member to spiritual leader.

    “They loved the good things he was doing — and there were good things,” said a former member of the inner circle who asked not to be named. “He would endeavor to love people and help them if they had problems.”

    Ruth Johnson joined the fellowship in the early 1990s, impressed by its loving sense of community and Barnard’s charismatic leadership.

    “When he started out as the minister,” Johnson said, “he was a very good teacher.”

    After renting out parks and campsites for religious retreats, the River Road Fellowship in 1996 purchased an 85-acre camp here for $575,000, christening it Shepherd’s Camp.

    Initially, leaders intended the wooded lakeside camp to be a home for short-term spiritual retreats. But Barnard began encouraging his followers to move close to the century-old cabins and newer buildings along a dirt road 5 miles southwest of town. Gradually, families sold their homes and packed their belongings to live a simpler life in east-central Minnesota.

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  11. Residents planted gardens, then canned vegetables. They raised cows, sheep and chickens. They sewed clothes.

    “Everybody there loved the lifestyle,” said Larsen, a trustee who helped acquire and oversee Shepherd’s Camp.

    As the fellowship grew to 150 people, the height of its membership, families spread to simple homes clustered around four areas they knew as Shepherd’s Camp, Maiden’s Love, Three Taverns and Fair Haven. Barnard urged them to work for businesses of fellowship members, butchering meat, building cabinets and making soap.

    From God’s word to Barnard’s

    It happened so gradually that former leaders barely noticed that Barnard was now calling all the shots.

    “It’s like anything else — everything comes a little piece at a time,” said the member of Barnard’s inner circle. “You’re not going to get some blatant, ‘I’m king now.’ … You start first with somebody calling him Apostle, then he ends up teaching about [being] Jesus Christ in the flesh.”

    Congregants listened to recordings of Barnard preaching and read books authored by him. After leaving the fellowship, Vail and his younger brother, Isaiah, got rid of much of it. But they kept a few books.

    One hardcover, “Considerations of Jesus Christ the Apostle and High Priest,” carries Barnard’s name on its maroon leather binding. In the book’s introduction, Barnard credits Victor Paul Wierwille, the former leader of the Way International as first teaching him the truths of Jesus Christ.

    One of the hallmarks of the Way — and, in the beginning, the River Road Fellowship — was the belief that everyone should read and interpret the Bible for themselves, rather than rely on clergy, the inner-circle member said. But gradually, Barnard put his own twist on biblical sayings to convince his followers to do his bidding, he said.

    Most congregants lived within a 5-mile radius, but rather than gather in a sanctuary to worship, small groups held their own home services, often listening to CDs of Barnard preaching. He was revered, and groups planned events around his visits.

    “If you were Catholic,” Johnson said, “it would be like the pope coming.”

    No time for rest

    So when, in July 2000, Barnard created a group of 10 girls and young women, ages 12 to 24, who would be sent to live near him on the Shepherd’s Camp, without their families, parents considered it an honor.

    Lindsay Tornambe was 13 when her parents dropped her off for what she thought would be summer camp. Instead it became a new life.

    Maidens lived in their own quarters and were home schooled. They arranged music for church and hosted the events at Shepherd’s Camp. “All the young girls looked up to us,” Tornambe said.

    Within about a month, Tornambe said, Barnard called her to his lodge and asked her about masturbation, she said. She didn’t know what that meant, and when she seemed confused, he grew angry, hitting her. Later that night he raped her, she said.

    It happened again and again, Tornambe said, up to five times a month: If she wasn’t acting spiritual it would be less frequent, she said; if she was deep into the faith, he would “reward” her. Tornambe said she remembers being instructed to use a female contraceptive early on with Barnard. That ended, she said, after Barnard went in for surgery. He explained that he could no longer produce children, she remembers.

    He met with Tornambe’s parents at one point and told them he may or may not have sex with her, she recalls, even though he had already repeatedly raped her. “He told me it was his way of being able to show me God’s love.”

    Tornambe is one of two former maidens whose reports form the basis of the charges against Barnard. The other woman told investigators a similar story, saying that she was 12 when Barnard first raped her. He told her that “sex with him was not wrong because he was a Man of God and she would remain a virgin because of it,” according to the complaint. She kept calendars, marking an “X” every time they had sex.

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  12. It added up to nearly a decade of alleged abuse.

    The day after Barnard first touched her sexually, the charges say, he sent her a card: “To my beloved … I thank God for you as I remember your tears and love and believing. I have you in my heart, and I’m so glad to be waiting and watching and longing together for our beloved lord Jesus Christ. Kept by His love together with you, Victor.”

    Tornambe started to talk with a friend about how “weird” the meetings were, she said. Another maiden stopped them, telling them they would get in trouble.

    All the maidens “knew what was going on,” Tornambe said. “But it was something we never talked about.”

    Meanwhile, the fellowship continued functioning without any knowledge of what was happening, Tornambe said.

    It might be hard to understand why parents would willingly turn their child over to such a leader, said Kent, the professor. But in his research, it’s a common theme. “People who make these choices believe that their leaders are spiritually unique and godlike,” Kent said. “Any contact with them is supposed to enhance a follower’s spiritual development.”

    In a way, fellowship members regarded the “maidens” as nuns, Larsen said. “They made a commitment to stay single and serve God the rest of their lives,” he said. “In that sense, it didn’t seem super odd.”

    Growing up inside

    Sometimes, when he was alone in the pickup he drove for work, Micah Vail turned on the radio. Those few illicit minutes were pretty much all he heard of the outside world, said Vail, now 23, in his St. Paul home. If you had asked him who the U.S. president was then, he wouldn’t have known.

    The boys of River Road Fellowship awoke at 5 a.m. each day for “animal care” and went to bed at 8 or 9 p.m. In between, they made cabinets, baled hay and read the Bible.

    Some of the work benefited Barnard. The Vail brothers spent months outfitting and landscaping a large house he lived in that they call “the mansion,” complete with cedar trim, granite countertops, porches and patios.

    Barnard drove a Cadillac Escalade and a motorcycle. He took trips to Brazil, congregants said, and had a tour bus, finished in chrome and leather, that he used to bring maidens to Gooseberry Falls and boys to Colorado to study mountain goats.

    The young men had a leadership group, too, called the Gamblers, but they were given freedom the girls were not, Vail said.

    As the rules got stricter, girls didn’t go out. They wore long skirts, high-collared shirts and their hair tied back. Boys and girls were kept separate and when they did talk, the girls kept their eyes focused on the floor.

    They were taught to be rude to outsiders, said Vail, who spent more than a decade in the fellowship. “Anyone who didn’t believe what we believed was an evil person.”

    A fellowship member and friend of Cindi Currie was wooing her to move her family there from Pennsylvania. Before deciding, Currie paid a visit.

    Members were polite and welcoming. But during her five-day visit she felt suffocated.

    “They could do nothing without asking permission,” Currie recalled. When her friend tried to rest with a pounding headache and another woman telephoned about chores, Currie saw her friend jump up to work.

    During fellowship services, she noticed, children sat still and didn’t talk. They looked fearful.

    Everything pointed toward submission to Barnard, she said. .

    People who questioned Barnard were harshly and publicly reprimanded and sometimes physically punished by group leaders. Former member Andy Schweiss said he was hit when he was 12 with a 2-by-4 for something he doesn’t even remember anymore. Misbehaving children were verbally lashed, Currie said. Barnard spit in someone’s face, Johnson recalled.

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  13. There was always fear of getting punished for doing something wrong or saying the wrong thing. “Fear was the main thing that kept this in check,” Vail said.

    Adults who weren’t compliant risked being shunned, losing jobs, friends and the community that they had come to depend upon. Some lost their families.

    A broken promise

    In 2008, the group’s tight bond began to unravel.

    A woman who had left the River Road Fellowship wrote Barnard a note, threatening to expose the fact that he was having several extramarital affairs with adult women in his congregation. Others who learned of the allegations began to pressure Barnard, too.

    Barnard called the congregation together and made a stunning announcement.

    “He told people, ‘I’ve had affairs,’ ” the former inner-circle leader said. “If you want to know if it involves your spouse, you can talk to me. It was earth-shattering — just a betrayal.”

    The Pine County Sheriff’s Office first heard complaints about Barnard in 2008, when congregants reported that Barnard was sleeping with married women. But County Attorney John Carlson declined to press charges. In a letter explaining why, prosecutors said that “the sad truth is, these individuals admit they were essentially ‘brainwashed’ by Barnard and readily and willingly did what he wanted them to do,” according to a copy given to Fox 9 News earlier this year.

    The letter also noted that there were reports of sexual abuse of juveniles in the congregation but concluded they were “merely suspicion.”

    After learning of the alleged adultery, some River Road leaders suspected that the abuse might have extended to the youngest maidens. They also worried about a second group of girls and young women, formed later, called the Auriga’s Band.

    But even after Barnard admitted to sleeping with married women, many of congregants remained loyal to him, Larsen said. “That was almost a double betrayal,” he said. “Are you kidding me?”

    It’s unclear what remains of River Road Fellowship.

    As the group splintered, Barnard and dozens of others moved to Washington, where they quickly set up businesses in Spokane and outside of Cheney, a community southwest of the city. Former members say that even after the charges, many followers are standing beside Barnard.

    “The people who know him are not being cooperative,” said Pine County Sheriff Robin Cole. The women in the Auriga group, too, won’t talk, he said.

    Barnard and his wife established a nutrition company, and his wife registered Waymarks, a publishing company they’d also had in Minnesota. Several of the maidens opened a cleaning company in Cheney, while members of Auriga’s Band founded one in Bellingham.

    Other leaders of the group, including Craig Elmblad and Randy Roark, also settled in eastern Washington.
    A former landlord of Roark’s when he and his wife rented a double-wide trailer in Cheney, said 10 or 15 people would often come to their home for Sunday evening services.

    “They were reclusive and seldom ever associated with other people,” he said. The trailer was on a private road, on 20 acres of pine trees and farmland about 18 miles south of Spokane.

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  14. Their daughters did not live with them — living about a mile away with other women.

    Elmblad, who lives at the address on Barnard’s driver’s license, told a Pine County Sheriff’s deputy in late 2012 that Barnard didn’t live there but occasionally visited.

    A reporter recently knocked on the door of the secluded home where several former maidens list a cleaning business. The home has a three-car garage, but two vehicles, including a late-model minivan, sat in the driveway. It’s at the end of a private drive with “no trespassing” signs posted.

    Two women in their late 20s answered the door, filming their visitor on a cellphone. They declined to comment and asked the reporter to leave.

    Law enforcement officials in Washington state continue to search for Barnard, and tips have poured in from across the state. As of Friday, investigators said there was no sign of him.

    Barnard’s last-known address in Pine County is at Fair Haven, at the end of a winding private drive dotted by small homes, a red barn and several squawking chickens.

    In the days after the charges were filed, residents there put up a handful of signs. “No trespassing,” they say in orange. “Private drive.”

    Cole said investigators spoke with “just about all” fellowship members remaining in Minnesota. “Their association with Victor, they claim, has ended,” he said Thursday. “But we are skeptical.

    “And we have our reasons for being skeptical.”

    A strange intimacy

    Former congregants say they’re bothered by what they didn’t question: Girls leaving their parents to live near Barnard at the camp. Barnard ordering families to uproot and move to one property or another. His growing worry about authorities. Now living in Sartell, Johnson is haunted by the instincts that she didn’t act upon. She noticed Barnard interact too closely with some of the maidens.

    “It’s not normal. … When they’re together in a room and she’s helping him on with his coat and he asks her, ‘does my breath smell?’ and she’s smelling his breath and there was an intimacy there,” Johnson said. “It just felt different.”

    Johnson knows others might not understand how followers became compliant. “As things are progressing and you’re in it, you don’t see that,” Johnson said.

    After starting the camp together, Larsen grew removed from the fellowship’s day-to-day operations, becoming immersed in his cabinet shop. He grew distant from Barnard, occasionally questioning some of his odd actions. Now, he wishes he had fought harder.

    “I had huge regret about that — still do,” he said.

    Talking with other men who were part of the congregation, Larsen said he told them that “every single one of us should be ashamed of ourselves that we let him do this.”
    When the two young women came forward in 2012, Larsen talked with them and was deeply saddened by what he heard.

    “He destroyed their lives … he stole their purity, everything,” Larsen said, later adding: “To me it doesn’t get any worse than to use the name of God to do stuff like that.”

    Tom Sowa, a reporter with the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, and Sandy Date, a Star Tribune staff librarian, contributed to this report.


  15. Victor Barnard, Fugitive Minnesota Cult Leader, Spotted In Washington

    By David Lohr, The Huffington Post August 14, 2014

    Authorities in Washington say they have received a "credible tip" as to the location of Victor Barnard, the leader of a cult-like religious sect who is accused of sexually abusing at least two girls.

    According to the Washington State Patrol, Barnard, 52, was spotted at a McDonald's restaurant in Raymond on Wednesday. He left with an unidentified female, in a dark blue Audi two door, with tinted windows and a spoiler, police said.

    "Additional information was developed that places Barnard in the Raymond and Aberdeen areas for approximately the previous week," the state patrol said in a Wednesday press release.

    Court documents provided to The Huffington Post show Barnard is facing 59 counts of criminal sexual conduct related to two young women, who claim he abused them for nearly a decade at the church he led.

    The two victims, the criminal complaint alleges, were among several girls who lived at the River Road Fellowship compound in Finlayson, Minnesota, which is located about 90 miles north of Minneapolis.

    According to police, the congregation is an offshoot of The Way International, a nondenominational Christian group.

    One of the alleged victims in the case contacted the Pine County Sheriff's Office in January 2012 and told them she had been part of Barnard's "Maidens Group," which she claims was made up of young women between the ages of 12 and 24, who lived in an area of the compound referred to as the "Shepherd's Camp."

    The woman told sheriff's investigators she was 11 years old when her family joined the fellowship in 1998. Within two years, she alleged, Barnard began having sex with her.

    "Barnard repeatedly preached to her that he represented Christ in the flesh, that Jesus Christ had Mary Magdalene and other women who followed him, that King Solomon slept with many concubines, that the firstborn child was to be sacrificed to God, and that it was normal for Barnard to have sex with her because it was in God's Word," the complaint states.

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  16. The alleged victim said she was 22 years old when she left the compound in 2010.

    The second alleged victim told police she was 12 years old in 2000, when Barnard started having sex with her. She said he told her it was okay for them to have sex because he was a "man of God and she would remain a virgin because of it," according to the complaint.

    The second victim said she stayed at the compound until age 20, in 2009.

    Both victims told police they were ordered not to tell anyone they were having sex with Barnard, the complaint alleges.

    According to the sheriff's office, the River Road Fellowship was settled in Pine County about 17 years ago.

    "They were pretty self-sufficient," Pine County Chief Deputy Steven Blackwell told The Associated Press. "They processed their own meat; they grew their own crops. As much as they could, they kept themselves separated from regular society."

    The group, which consisted of about 50 members, remained in Pine County until 2011, when it relocated to Washington state.

    "There had been a division in the group that caused many to separate because Barnard had admitted to having sexual relations with multiple married woman in the group," the criminal complaint alleges.

    In November 2012, sheriff's investigators traveled to Spokane, Wash., to question Barnard, but were unable to locate him. Congregation members investigators spoke with were unwilling to help put authorities in touch with Barnard, police said.

    Investigators spent two years building a case against Barnard and filed charges against him in April, in Pine County District Court. Since that time, a nationwide warrant has been issued for his arrest.

    According to a spokesperson for the sheriff's office, Washington state authorities and Homeland Security are assisting in the search for Barnard.

    Anyone with information on Barnard is asked to call the Pine County Sheriff's Office Tip Line at 320-629-8342 or Chief Deputy Blackwell at 320-629-8380.


    READ THE CRIMINAL COMPLAINT: http://www.scribd.com/doc/218678385/Victor-Arden-Barnard-Complaint

  17. Brazil Arrests US Cult Leader Victor Arden Barnard, Wanted on Child Sex Charges

    NBC News and The Associated Press February 28th 2015

    Brazilian authorities said Saturday they arrested a self-professed minister put on a U.S. most-wanted list for allegedly molesting two girls in a "Maidens Group" at his religious fellowship in rural Minnesota.

    A statement posted on the website of the Public Security Secretariat for the Rio Grande do Norte state government reported the arrest of Victor Arden Barnard, 53. The U.S. Marshals Service also confirmed the arrest in a statement.

    The Brazilian statement said police captured Barnard late Friday in an apartment near a paradisiacal white-sand beach in northeastern Brazil. He was being held in the city of Natal to await extradition to face charges in the U.S., The Associated Press reported.

    Barnard was charged in April with 59 counts of criminal sexual conduct during his time as leader of the River Road Fellowship near Finlayson, Minn. Each of the counts carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison..S. MARSHALS SERVICE / REUTERS

    Barnard was charged in April with 59 counts of criminal sexual conduct during his time as leader of the River Road Fellowship near Finlayson, Minn.
    Minnesota prosecutors called Barnard a "master manipulator" who persuaded church members to let their daughters, some as young as 12, live apart from them to fulfill what he preached was their biblical obligation to have sex with him, NBC News has reported.

    The girls, who lived in a group called "Alamoth," were required to be virgins when they were "invited" by Barnard and were to remain unmarried, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

    Two unnamed girls are now adults but were 12 and 13 at the time they say Barnard assaulted them. They told detectives that Barnard preached that he "represented Christ in the flesh" and that because Jesus "had Mary Magdalene and other women who followed him," it was normal for Barnard to have sex with them.

    Barnard would tell them "it was in God's Word," according to the affidavit. His control over his followers in Minnesota was so strong that investigators had trouble getting church members to cooperate. Barnard left the church and moved to Washington sometime around 2012 when the fellowship splintered over allegations that he was having affairs with married women.


  18. Inside the Sex Cult of Christ

    He claimed to be a Savior. But he turned on the teenage girls in his flock. And when they spoke up, he went on the lam.

    by M.L. Nestel The Daily Beast March 5, 2015

    “Christ in the flesh” has been captured. And now, his alleged victims and embittered kin are left to process the damage he’s wrought.

    Self-professed holy man Victor Arden Barnard, 53, was busted in a beachside community in Brazil on Friday after almost a year on the run—and three months on the U.S. Marshals Service’s Most Wanted List. For years, according to court documents, Barnard had his way with several girls as young as 12, including a Brazilian exchange student, and also fornicated with church members’ wives back in his sect’s original compound based in Finlayson, Minnesota.

    The Daily Beast spoke exclusively to numerous relatives, friends, and even a former member of Barnard’s River Road Fellowship who managed to escape the spiritual leader’s clutches. Only years later did the former member learn that his daughter allegedly was one of Barnard’s corrupt conquests.

    Carmen Tornambe, 61, became a River Road Fellowship member when he was in his 40s and a professional trumpet player living in Norristown, Pennsylvania. He remembers heading to Minnesota to help do some sound engineering for Victor Barnard and his 150-member evangelical sect. “Once I got out there the manipulation really started,” Tornambe said. “I felt like I was under a spell.”

    Tornambe, who soon moved his entire family to Minnesota, later took a job as a cabinet maker. What was supposed to be a two-week gig recording gospel tracks turned into a sadistic saga where Barnard’s influence was everywhere.

    “I thought I could have left, but what kept me there was my family wanted to stay; they had all this affection for Victor,” he said.

    All the women did. And Barnard’s accusers told authorities the pastor claimed “he represented Christ in the flesh” and that “‘Christ had Mary Magdalene...and King Solomon had lots of concubines’—and managed to turn them into his playthings.”

    “He would work on the women and work on their minds,” Tornambe said. “He would promulgate the idea that Christ has to have a face. It’s not like an ethereal spirit. You got to have something tangible, and he was that.”

    Their own personal Jesus. That, Tornambe says, was Victor Barnard’s power: “He would use his words to really capture your mind, and before you know it you are thinking his way.”

    But cross Barnard and he would inflict psychological punishment. Tornambe said that when he wasn’t playing music “with all my heart,” he would get a dose of Victor.

    Physical punishment, the complaint alleges, was part of Barnard’s way of keeping his faithful in check. One accuser “said she was hit by Barnard when he was angry and sometimes left bruises. He also would yell at her and make her feel very small and afraid.”

    The women who didn’t dress properly were humiliated, Tornambe added. “The clothes were all made by hand, and dresses were longer, no short shorts or tight-fitting apparel. Nothing low-cut.”

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  19. Barnard who wore biblical hand-sewn flowing robes and carried a staff, started to take the wives of the ministry’s men as lovers.

    “He told me with a couple other guys that he had sexual relations with one of the wives,” Tornambe said. “[Victor] thought he was trying to help this woman because she was having problems.”

    The philandering with wives was a precursor for Barnard, who soon allegedly spread his love around to younger prey. “He talked to the parents,” Tornambe recalled. “He brought some scripture up and [said], ‘If these girls decided that they really wanted to keep their vows and to not be married but to have sexual desires and they were the aggressors—scripturally, I would have the right to do that.’”

    That proposition was more of an exercise of taking the temperature of his followers. Barnard was already deflowering his so-called Maidens, according to the court papers.

    Those alleged actions would only be known long after the church imploded.

    Tornambe said he found out more than three years after the fact that Barnard had repeatedly done unspeakable things to Tornambe’s daughter, Lyndsay, now 27.

    “The biggest mistake of my life is I trusted this person,” Tornambe said.

    In 2009, Tornambe and other men in River Road Fellowship confronted Barnard over his affairs with their wives. Barnard couldn’t contain the fallout. “He started losing power and control when some of the men confronted him,” Tornambe said. “That’s when I felt things were really loosening up and I was gaining my strength back.”

    All along, despite his growing reluctance about being a member of River Road Fellowship, Tornambe was blind to allegations that Barnard had been bedding his daughter for a decade. It allegedly started when she turned 13 years old.

    Lyndsay was chosen to be a part of Barnard’s summer camp and continued for years. Barnard was able to win over his lovers. “He was very careful,” Tornambe said. “If I knew my daughter was getting hurt, I would have pulled her out in a second. Even with my frame of mind I would have had enough to grab her and go.”

    One neighbor who lived next-door to River Road Fellowship for 20 years described how the couple hundred acres of land that Barnard’s church had seemed almost like a military institution. “It was more like an Army barracks rather than houses,” Joseph Mitchell, 45, told The Daily Beast.

    One day the church group up and left. “I knew it was weird deal when all of a sudden they were gone,” Mitchell said.
    The group split after three girls who had grown up came forward to local authorities and accused Barnard of being a pedophile.

    Steve Blackwell was the deputy police chief of Pine County last year before he retired. He told The Daily Beast that Victor Barnard never left the compound before the allegations and kept his followers, whom he used as “shields,” living in fear.

    “The guy is a predator,” Blackwell said. “He became ordained as a minister so he could have an avenue to feed his hunger. So he could dedicate his life as a disguise and be a predator and feed the beast. He’s an animal.”

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  20. Out of the boxes full of evidence Blackwell said his office collected on Victor Barnard, he says there are interviews with the leader’s alleged sex victims in which they said he would tell them “I am the Messiah” so he could violate them. “He said, ‘I’m the Holy Spirit and therefore it’s not rape. And you’re still a virgin, so it’s not sex,’” Blackwell said.

    Initially, investigators on Barnard’s trail believed the cult leader was “house-hopping” in sleeper cells dotted around Spokane, Washington.

    But it turns out Barnard was laying low in South America all along. Police in Pipa, Brazil, took him into custody alongside Barnard’s exchange student; the 33-year-old woman who reportedly will face charges for aiding a known fugitive.

    The authorities also tagged as evidence Barnard’s cache of scripture books, diaries, computers, flash drives, and cell chips.

    The self-proclaimed prophet Barnard awaits extradition back to Pine City, Minnesota, where he’ll be formally charged with 59 felonies for molesting multiple members of his flock who believed the wooden-staff-clutching, bearded fake was the son of God.

    “He has a huge ego and he thinks he’s the holiest man on earth,” a close relative of Barnard’s, who requested anonymity, told The Daily Beast.

    The family member says Barnard managed to brainwash his wife into letting him attack the prepubescent girls: “All he does is write books that no one wants to read and surrounds himself around young girls because he can’t get laid.”

    Another relative of one of the accusers tells us that when Barnard is finally brought to justice he deserves “to go away for a long time with all the charges on him.”

    The same relative told The Daily Beast it’s fortunate that Barnard is in custody, because he would suffer vigilante justice otherwise. “His teeth would be down his throat in a hurry…. The worst thing he could do is not kill me, because I would come back at him with a stick.”

    It’s also possible that the extent of Barnard’s alleged crimes is unknown and the current revelations could be just the beginning, Blackwell said. “Were any children born or abortions performed? Were they sacrificing things? We don’t know.”

    Rather than think of the River Road Fellowship community as a church, former deputy chief Blackwell likens them to terrorists. “There’s cells all over the country,” Blackwell said. “There’s factions of them still out there. They don’t talk. They still meet and have congregations and they are deliberate about their recruiting.”

    When one of the victims told the pastor she was sinning, Barnard would say the sex “was not wrong because he was a Man of God and she was serving the church and taking care of him,” the documents say.

    One thing is certain: Victor Barnard was successful because most of the followers he shepherded ever since birth didn’t know any better.

    “Keep in mind a lot of these victims have been under his influence since they were small children,” Chief Blackwell said. “He’s god of that world.”


  21. Pine County authorities tracking reports of suicide attempt by cult leader Victor Barnard

    Victor Barnard charged with raping young followers in Minnesota.

    By Paul Walsh, Star Tribune NOVEMBER 19, 2015

    Authorities in east-central Minnesota are tracking news reports out of Brazil that Victor Barnard, the cult leader accused of sexually assaulting dozens of young girls in his congregation, tried to commit suicide while in custody in Brazil.

    Barnard attempted suicide Friday while in his prison cell and was admitted to the intensive care unit of the Regional Hospital in southern Brazil, according to newspaper reports this week out of Mato Grosso do Sul.

    Doctors offered no information about Barnard’s condition, the reports added.

    “I just saw these reports this morning,” Pine County Attorney Reese Frederickson said Thursday. “I haven’t had any information beyond these reports.”

    Frederickson said he was in touch Thursday morning with Sheriff Jeff Nelson about the latest development in Barnard’s case.

    One of Barnard’s attorneys, Marsh Halberg, said he received calls Wednesday night about his client and is “still waiting for more information out of Brazil before I comment.”

    Barnard has been fighting extradition to the United States since his capture in February. Frederickson said it could be until at least May before he’s brought back to Minnesota to face charges.

    Barnard, 54, was arrested in February while on the run in Brazil. He’s awaiting extradition to Pine County to face 59 counts of first- and third-degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly raping young girls he called “maidens” in his congregation. Barnard, through a Brazilian attorney, says he is innocent.

    He left Pine County in 2010 bankrupt and under a cloud of suspicion for his behavior during his years at the head of the River Road Fellowship in Finlayson. After charges were leveled in 2014, he evaded an international manhunt with the aid of one of his followers — a young woman from a wealthy Brazilian family.

    The woman, Cristina Liberato, had been a member of the fellowship since she was in her teens. Former fellowship members identified her as one of Barnard’s maidens — females 12 to 24 whom he separated from their families and brought to live near him in the isolated religious community.

    Two former maidens approached the Sheriff’s Office in 2012 to report that Barnard began a sexual relationship with them when they were 12 and 13 and that the abuse continued for years.


  22. Pine County cult leader accused of rape asks to be extradited from Brazil

    Victor Barnard reportedly asked to be sent back from Brazil to face rape charges.

    By Jennifer Brooks, Star Tribune MARCH 28, 2016

    Brazilian authorities will extradite accused cult leader Victor Barnard to Minnesota to face charges that he raped young girls in his congregation.

    Barnard himself requested the extradition after spending more than a year in a Brazilian prison, his attorney says.

    Minneapolis attorney Dave Risk confirmed Monday that the Brazilian Supreme Court has approved Barnard's extradition request on the condition that any prison sentence not exceed 30 years. No extradition date has been set, but Risk said Barnard will likely be returned sometime in the next six months.

    "We do believe he is on his way back," Risk said. "He did himself request to be sent back."

    Barnard faces 59 counts of first- and third-degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly molesting young girls he called "maidens" in his Pine County congregation.

    He left the congregation's isolated community in Finlayson, Minn., in 2010 under a cloud of suspicion for his behavior during his years at the head of the River Road Fellowship. In 2012, two former followers approached the Pine County Sheriff's Office to report that Barnard began a sexual relationship with them when they were 12 and 13 years old and that the abuse continued for years.

    Pine County leveled charges against Barnard in 2014, setting off an international manhunt. He was arrested in February 2015 in a Brazilian resort town, where he was sheltering with one of his former maidens — a follower from a wealthy Brazilian family.

    Media in Brazil reported in November that Barnard had been hospitalized after an apparent suicide attempt in jail.

    Pine County Attorney Reese Frederickson, who inherited the Barnard case when he took office in 2014, confirmed that Brazilian authorities have agreed to extradite Barnard, but said he does not yet know the timeframe.

    Risk, a partner in the Minneapolis-based Halberg Criminal Defense law firm, said the timing of Barnard's return will depend on Pine County and U.S. authorities.


  23. Cult leaders extradition from Brazil to Minnesota to face rape charges suddenly called off

    Victor Barnard was supposed to arrive back in Minnesota Thursday; timetable now unclear.

    By Paul Walsh Star Tribune MAY 19, 2016

    Cult leader Victor Barnard was supposed to have been put on a flight from Brazil under guard of federal agents Thursday and returned to Minnesota to face charges that he raped young followers in his congregation, but an unexpected delay has popped up, a defense attorney said. The extradition is now on an indefinite hold.

    Barnard faces 59 counts of first- and third-degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly molesting young girls he called “maidens” in his Pine County congregation.

    He fled to Brazil, was captured in February 2015 and has been imprisoned there ever since. Even though that nation’s Supreme Court has approved Barnard’s extradition back to Minnesota, a dispute between Brazilian and U.S. authorities over any potential sentence is delaying his return.

    Marsh Halberg said a lawyer working on behalf of Barnard in Brazil “has seen the documents signed off by the State Department, U.S. Marshals Service and Brazil … they were going to ship him today, and we expected him to be in Pine County on Monday or Tuesday.”

    However, one condition of the Brazilian court is that any potential sentence for Barnard in the United States not exceed 30 years, which is the maximum he would receive if prosecuted and convicted in that South American country.

    That could be “the stumbling block” that is keeping Barnard in custody in the southern Brazilian city of Campo Grande, Halberg said.

    Pine County Attorney Reese Frederickson said that even if the 54-year-old Barnard were convicted of only a fraction of the counts against him, he’d be looking at the prospect of living out his life in prison.

    In any event, Frederickson said, “We’re hoping that he is returned to Minnesota soon, so we can see justice for the victims.”

    Barnard left his congregation’s isolated community in Finlayson, Minn., in 2010 under a cloud of suspicion for his behavior during his years at the head of the River Road Fellowship. In 2012, two former followers approached the Pine County Sheriff’s Office to report that Barnard began a sexual relationship with them when they were 12 and 13 years old and that the abuse continued for years.

    The county charged Barnard in 2014, setting off an international manhunt. He was arrested in February 2015 in a Brazilian resort town, where he was sheltering with one of his former maidens — a follower from a wealthy Brazilian family.

    Media in Brazil reported in November that Barnard had been hospitalized after an apparent suicide attempt in jail.


  24. Cult leader Victor Barnard back in Minnesota to face charges

    Extradited from Brazil, he is now in the Pine County jail.

    By Liz Sawyer Star Tribune JUNE 18, 2016

    Cult leader Victor Barnard has been extradited from Brazil and was booked into the Pine County jail on Saturday afternoon, authorities said.

    Barnard, now 54, who led the River Road Fellowship near Finlayson, Minn., faces 59 counts of first- and third-degree criminal sexual conduct. He is accused of raping girls and young women from his isolated congregation, victims he called "maidens."

    His accusers have said he twisted biblical passages to convince them that a sexual relationship with their pastor was just as much God's will as it was for King Solomon to have concubines.

    Barnard fled to Brazil, was captured in February 2015 and had been imprisoned there ever since.

    Even though that nation's Supreme Court had approved Barnard's extradition back to Minnesota, a dispute between Brazilian and U.S. authorities over any potential sentence delayed the move for several months. There had been concerns among U.S. authorities that the delay could last up to three years.

    Barnard left his start-up community in 2010 under a cloud of suspicion about his behavior during his years at the head of the River Road Fellowship.

    In 2012, two former followers approached the Pine County Sheriff's Office to report that he had begun a sexual relationship with them when they were 12 and 13 and that the abuse had continued for years.

    The county charged Barnard in 2014, setting off an international manhunt. He was arrested in a Brazilian resort town, where he was sheltering with one of his former maidens — a follower from a wealthy Brazilian family.

    After more than a year in jail, Barnard himself requested the extradition back to Minnesota, his attorney said.

    Media in Brazil reported in November that Barnard was hospitalized after an apparent suicide attempt from which he has apparently recovered.

    Marsh Halberg, Barnard's defense attorney, said last month that one condition of the Brazilian court was that any potential sentence for Barnard in the United States not exceed 30 years, which is the maximum he would receive if prosecuted and convicted in that South American country.

    Pine County Attorney Reese Frederickson said even if Barnard were convicted of only a fraction of the counts against him, he'd be looking at the prospect of living out his life in prison.


  25. Minnesota cult leader charged with 59 counts of child sex abuse

    Fox News Latino, June 21, 2016

    PINE CITY, MINN. (AP) – A judge set bail at $1.5 million Monday for a religious sect leader who's charged with sexually abusing girls at a secluded compound in rural Minnesota.
    Victor Barnard, 54, made his first state court appearance since his extradition from Brazil. U.S. marshals delivered him to the Pine County Jail on Saturday.

    Pine County prosecutors charged Barnard in April 2014 with 59 counts of criminal sexual conduct for allegedly having sexual relationships with two girls in his "Maidens Group" at his River Road Fellowship compound near Finlayson, about 90 miles north of Minneapolis.

    The U.S. Marshals Service put him on its most wanted fugitives list, and authorities finally caught up with him in a Brazilian resort town in February 2015. Brazilian authorities said he had arrived in Brazil in March 2012.

    Barnard looked haggard, thin and pale during the brief hearing as attorneys argued over the conditions of his bail.

    Pine County Attorney Reese Frederickson argued for bail as high as $7 million, saying he'd received reports that Barnard's remaining followers were liquidating assets to try to free him. He said Barnard remains a flight risk.

    But defense attorney Dave Risk said his client had already spent more than a year in prison in Brazil and had agreed to extradition. He said the prison stay "took quite a toll on him. His health has diminished significantly as a result."

    Judge James Router set bail at $1.5 million with conditions including Barnard's having no contact with the two women he allegedly abused starting when they were girls, surrendering his passport and being monitored by GPS. Barnard could also go free with no conditions if he posts $3 million.

    According to the criminal complaint, the two women told investigators they were among about 10 girls and young women who were chosen to live apart from their families in what was called the Shepherd's Camp. One alleged Barnard started abusing her when she was 13, continuing until she was 22. The other said she was abused between ages 12 and 20.

    Investigators have said Barnard used religious coercion and intimidation to maintain his control over them. They've also said they believe Barnard abused other girls but were unable to get others to come forward.

    Most of the counts against Barnard carry maximum sentences of 30 years in prison.