A local member of a religious cult called The Family is speaking out about allegations of child abuse. The cult has come under fire recently after a murder-suicide in Arizona. Beth Shelburne has the exclusive interview in this LOCAL 8 Investigation.
Ricky Rodriguez left a home video as a suicide note before shooting himself in the head last month. On the tape, Rodriguez, lays out his plan to murder a leader of a religious sex cult called the Children of God, also known as The Family.
“It’s a need for revenge…it’s a need for justice,” Rodriguez says on the tape.
He stabbed 51-year-old Angela Smith to death as revenge, he said, for years of sexual abuse he suffered as a child growing up in the cult.
Smith was a longtime member of the cult who served on the board of directors of the Family Care Foundation in Dulzura, a Christian missionary group with close ties to the group.
“She was the most caring, kind, loving individual,” said Cassandra Mooney, a member of The Family. “It truly is sad that her life was ended so tragically.”
Mooney was friends with Smith, and has been an active member of the cult for decades. Mooney works for another nonprofit with close ties to the cult – Activated Ministries in Escondido – distributing Christian literature.
“It’s a life of preaching the gospel and helping others know about Jesus, and that’s what we are all about,” Mooney said.
To this day, some members of The Family still live in communes. During the 1970s and ’80s, cult leaders advocated open sexuality, even among children. It was a practice that led to widespread child sex abuse, according to former members.
San Diegan Jim La Mattery left the group in 1975, before most of the alleged abuse took place. He says cult leaders continue to deny responsibility.
“I don’t want to see another murder,” he said. “I don’t want to see another suicide, and they have a responsibility to stop it.
“And that means yes, standing up, and if that means some of them go to jail, that’s what accountability is.”
Cult leaders say they banned all sexual contact with minors in 1986, and they’ve apologized to the victims. Even so, many cult members still have a hard time believing that child abuse actually took place.
“I have been a missionary for 33 years, and part of The Family,” Mooney said. “I have never witnessed the abuse brought up in all these allegations.”
But some of those allegations are backed up by court documents.
Take Paul Peloquin, for example. Cult leaders sponsored his work with children in Africa, even though he’s named in a 1995 court case in England as someone who abused young girls.
Then there’s Phillip Slown. San Diego court documents say Slown repeatedly molested his stepdaughters while in the cult. Yet the Family Care Foundation in Dulzura gave Slown more than $100,000 worth of donations to help finance his work with at-risk teenagers.
“I’m scared that people do not understand that when they make a donation to these so-called charitable foundations, they’re actually perpetuating the cycle of abuse,” Jim La Mattery said.
But cult member Cassandra Mooney says her only concern is doing the Lord’s work.
“Listen, this is people’s lives we’re talking about, and a missionary movement that has done a lot of good and continues to,” she said. “I’m not worried about repercussions because our good work is going to continue.”
People who have left the cult want leaders to turn over the names of suspected child abusers to the police. So far, the cult has not made any names public.