Missing Sect Members Found Alive, Leader Hospitalized.
(Sept. 19) — The leader of a religious sect was hospitalized for a psychiatric evaluation today after members of the group left farewell messages for relatives saying they were going to heaven to meet Jesus.
The messages frightened relatives and police, thinking the group might be planning a mass suicide, and a massive search was launched for the 13 sect members. The five adults and eight children were found safe late this morning, praying in a Los Angeles-area park, police said.Reyna Marisol Chicas, 32, identified by group members as their leader, was questioned by police and then hospitalized under a mandatory 72-hour hold for a mental evaluation, The Associated Press reported, citing the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Police said Chicas gave them a false name during questioning and began rambling, the AP and the Times said.
Authorities had earlier issued a public plea for members of the sect to contact them.
They are members are part of a “religious off-shoot group” that’s “cult-like” and “fundamentalist in nature,” Los Angeles County sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore told KTLA, a local TV station, earlier. “If you’re watching this, come home,” he said in a plea on live TV. “Come home alive to the people who care for you.”In addition to Chicas, the group included three sisters, Salvadoran immigrants ages 30, 32 and 40, an 18-year-old son and eight children aged 3 to 17.
The search began Saturday afternoon when two husbands went to a sheriff’s station to report their wives missing, and told authorities they suspected the women had joined a cult that broke off from a mainstream Christian church in northern Los Angeles County, San Diego’s Channel 6 TV station reported.
One of the men told investigators he was ordered to guard and pray over a purse, but after several hours he got suspicious and looked inside. He found five cell phones, ID cards, deeds and letters in English and Spanish, the Los Angeles Times reported. “The letters essentially state that they are all going to heaven shortly to meet Jesus and their deceased relatives,” the California governor’s office said, according to CNN. “Numerous letters found say goodbye to their relatives. It is believed, through further investigation, that the missing persons’ intentions are to commit mass suicide.”One of the husbands told investigators that he believes his wife and the other missing people were brainwashed by Chicas, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Police put out an APB for three vehicles and used helicopters to scan Antelope Valley, a nearby area mentioned in some of the letters left behind. They also searching Vasquez Rocks, another wilderness spot where authorities believe the group had planned to go six months ago to wait then for the apocalypse or other catastrophic event. That previous trip was called off after a cult member told relatives about their plans.All 13 members of the sect were spotted late this morning at Jackie Robinson Park in Palmdale, Whitmore said.
Sheriff’s Capt. Mike Parker told the Los Angeles Times the group members were cooperative with authorities. They told police they were praying to end school violence and sexual immorality.
Paker said the group were surprised to learn there there fears they might commit suicide. “They seemed shocked,” Parker told the Times. “They said we are Christians, and we would never harm ourselves.”