WVNY, Apr. 29, 2003
By Kelly Reardon
They’re familiar faces for many Vermonters. The Twelve Tribes have lived in Burlington, Rutland, Bellows Falls and Island Pond.
They’re a quiet religious group, but some who’ve lived on the inside tell a tale of brutal abuse in a strange cult.
Noah Jones was born in Island Pond in 1982 and left the Twelve Tribes in 1999.
He says they look like a happy group, but are anything but.
“They spanked me from my feet to my neck,” Noah explained. “All the way. I was black and blue, basically, head to toe.”
Noah said he’s been hit with a two-by-four on a job site, he’s been beaten with reeds and locked in a basement.
He calls it a destructive group, a prison.
He was two-years-old when police stormed the compound. He doesn’t remember the raid, but he says he remembers his own beatings and there were lots of them.
“They ended up locking me and my brother in a basement,” he explained. “They brought me one meal a day for a whole month.”
In 1999, Noah escaped to New Hampshire, crossing the border late at night and hiding under a porch until friends from New York rescued him.
Kevin Coughlin met Noah that night. Since then he’s helped dozens of teenagers and children to escape.
“All of a sudden it seemed like the flood gates opened up,” he said. “We’ve had as many as four or more living in our house at one time in the past four years. The anger of these kids coming out is amazing. They’ve been hit by so many people they can’t even count it.”
Life-long members admit it’s not for everyone.
“People do leave,” Jeff Whitten said. “They do leave. If they don’t want to be here, we don’t want them to be here.”
Children are punished and what they eat, drink, do and believe is a matter of principle.
Noah’s parents, brother and sister are still on the inside.
“The saddest part is that my dad can’t even think for himself anymore,” Noah said. While on the outside, Noah is free to think and believe for himself. “I realized, this is not where God lives.”