Civil lawsuit filed against River Road Fellowship

- A woman who was sexually assaulted by cult leader Victor Barnard for nearly a decade, beginning when she was 13 years old, is now filing a civil lawsuit against 15 former leaders of his religious group, the River Road Fellowship.

The lawsuit was filed late on Tuesday afternoon in Pine County, Minnesota. The lawsuit claims the group’s leaders “negligently and tortuously exposed the 'Maidens' to the sexual perversion of Victor Barnard.” Several of the defendants had already filed motions to dismiss the pending lawsuit, claiming they were unaware of any sexual abuse. The lawsuit will also be filed in Washington where most of Barnard’s former followers now live.

The civil suit is based on the criminal case against Barnard, which police and prosecutors recently opened up for the Fox 9 Investigators.

In October, Barnard pleaded guilty to sexual assault. Charges followed a Fox 9 Investigation of two women who came forward to accuse Barnard of abusing them for a decade beginning when they were 12 and 13 years old.   

Lindsey Tornambe, who is identified as the Jane Doe plaintiff in the lawsuit, was one of the Maidens, a group of ten first born daughters who took care of Barnard at the groups camp in Finlayson, Minnesota. The Maidens were supposed to be celibate, but Barnard turned them into concubines, according to the criminal charges.

"I didn't know what he was doing was criminal, that he was raping me," she said. "Victor was the one who had sex with me and the other girls, but all the other adults they knew about it and didn't do anything. I believe they should be held accountable also."

Police and prosecutors believe Barnard still has followers in Pine County.

County Attorney Reese Frederickson said Barnard's guilty plea left him with a lingering question: How many of the 140 followers knew what was happening?

"They did suspect something going on. One of them even referenced it as a joke among cult members that this was Victor Barnard's harem, but those were only suspicions," said Frederickson

In statement after statement to detectives, a dozen former followers describe not a benevolent savior, but a "manipulative, vindictive, chain smoking narcissist," who would sometimes spit in the face of his faithful. One former follower described it as “The Victor Show.”

"They turned a blind eye, if they had questions. They just pushed it aside,” said Pine County Sheriff Jeff Nelson.

When the River Road Fellowship bought a camp in Finlayson 20 years ago, they provided documents describing the group to Pine County.  Those documents describe Victor Barnard as a minister. 

Four other couples were listed as trustees of the River Road Fellowship.  

Craig Elmblad was Barnard's right hand man and enforcer. 

"Craig was in the meeting when Victor asked my parents if he could eventually have sex with me. I was only 14 at the time," Tornambe said.

There was Randy Roark and his wife Pam, who was a mother figure to the maidens. According to documents in the criminal case, Pam Roark would’ve been in the best position to know what was really happening between Barnard and the Maidens. Lindsay now calls Pam Roark Barnard's pimp. 

"At one point she got us books on sex and sex positions, obviously to help us with our sex lives with Victor," she said

David Larsen was another leader named in the civil suit. Larsen was with Barnard from the beginning and helped him establish Shepherd's Camp in Finlayson. But Barnard demoted Larsen.

Larsen cooperated with police investigations of Victor Barnard in 2012 and 2014. And Larsen was, in one important respect, the first to blow the whistle.

In July 2009, Larsen wrote an 18-page letter to Barnard, accusing him of adultery with the married women. He wrote Barnard surrounded himself, with "a bunch of yes men."  He then admitted, "I am one of the worst."  He accused Barnard of "fornication" with the maidens and further wrote,  "I personally sorrow most for this."

Torname is not convinced he did enough.  "Sounds like he knew about it and turned a blind eye. And until Victor started sleeping with the married women he decided to speak up. When all along he knew what was happening with the young girls," Tornambe said.

Two months after Larsen’s letter, the group disintegrated over the adultery allegations.

Barnard and about 40 of his followers headed for Washington, where many of his top lieutenants still live, setting up small businesses. The remaining Maiden clean homes for a living. 

All of the followers in Washington refused to cooperate with detectives, some even denied they knew Barnard.

Trustees the Fox 9 Investigators could reach respectfully declined to comment.

"I'd say some of the elders who formed this knew what was going on," Frederickson said.

But Frederickson admitted, he doesn't have a criminal case against any follower. 

Barnard, however, will spend the next 30 years in prison after pleading guilty.

But what is the fitting punishment for blind obedience? Tornambe hopes to find out with her civil case.

"I want all of them to know what they did wasn't okay," she said. "They can't live their lives and think they had no part in helping Victor, because they did."

Barnard was recently hospitalized after he was assaulted by a fellow prisoner at the state prison in Rush City, Minnesota.


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