FOX 9, KMSP, Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN, was honored today with a regional Edward R. Murrow Award for Continuing Coverage of the story of an accused Minnesota cult leader Victor Barnard, 59, who became one of the most wanted fugitives in the world and was recently apprehended in Brazil, where he awaits extradition.
The investigation: Maidens of River Road
The charges: Cult leader charged with molesting 'Maidens'
The arrest: Cult leader captured in Brazil
In February 2014, reporter Tom Lyden's investigative report, "The Maidens of River Road," introduced the world to two young women, Lindsey Tornambe and Jess Schweiss, who say they were molested by Barnard beginning when they were just 12 and 13 years old. Barnard led a religious group, The River Road Fellowship, with approximately 150 followers based in Finlayson, Minnesota (pop. 300). Tornambe and Schweiss belonged to a group of a dozen first born daughters called "The Maidens." Tornambe and Schweiss said The Maidens, many of whom were underage, were instructed to have sex with Barnard, in some cases, with the permission of their parents. That original story documented the refusal of the Pine County Attorney to criminally charge the case despite the considerable evidence and the frustrations of the local sheriff.
In April 2014, as a direct result of the FOX 9 investigation, a newly elected Pine County Attorney charged Barnard with 59 counts of sexual abuse of minors involving Tornambe and Schweiss. The charges launched a global manhunt, with Barnard becoming one of the FBI's most wanted fugitives and making INTERPOL "Red List." On February 28, 2015, almost a year to the day of the original investigation, FOX 9's Tom Lyden broke news in the United States that Barnard had been arrested in Brazil in the company of one of his long time followers. Barnard is currently awaiting extradition back to the United States.
The regional award will now compete with 13 other regions for a National Edward R. Murrow Award, which will be announced in July.