Alleged cult leader Victor Barnard charged with molesting 'Maidens'
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.
LAST SEEN IN SPOKANE
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.
INVESTIGATORS ORIGINAL REPORT: Maidens of River Road
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.
CHARGES BRING MIXED EMOTIONS FOR VICTIM
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."
Schweiss and her friend, Lindsay 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."
HOW THE HUNT BEGAN
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