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Murder-suicide case in desert evangelical sex cult

San Francisco Chronicle, USA
Jan. 11, 2005
Don Lattin, Chroncle Religion Writer
sfgate.com

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Tuesday January 11, 2005

Sect heir apparent, woman who reared him are found dead

Police in Arizona and California said they are investigating an apparent murder-suicide involving the son of Maria David, the prophet and spiritual leader of the Family, an international evangelical sex cult previously known as the Children of God.

Early Sunday morning, the body of Richard P. Rodriguez, 29, was found behind the wheel of a car in an industrial area in Blythe, a Riverside County town in the Mojave Desert on the Arizona border.

Rodriguez, known as “Davidito” when he was growing up in the Children of God, had been groomed as a child to be the heir apparent of the sect, founded in the late 1960s by the late David “Moses” Berg.

Police said Rodriguez died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after making several calls on his cell phone.

By tracing those calls, police were tipped off to check a Tucson apartment, where they discovered the body of Angela M. Smith, 51, who died hours earlier from multiple stab wounds.

“We’ve had some reports that they were involved with a religious group, and that she (Smith) was involved in his (Rodriguez’s) upbringing,” said Sgt. Carlos Valdez of the Tucson police.

Those familiar with the Children of God know that Rodriguez had one of the most infamous upbringings in the sect, which in its early years encouraged sex between minors and between minors and adults.

Critics of the cult have long pointed to a booklet published by the Children of God titled the “Story of Davidito,” which describes in glowing terms how Rodriquez was sexually abused as a toddler by his nanny, Sara.

“He was the prince,” said Daniel Roselle, 29, a Los Angeles man who was also raised in the Children of God. “He was put on a pedestal as the future leader of the Family.”

Roselle, who says he was sexually abused by sect members when he was 7 years old, left the group in 1995, about five years before Rodriguez defected in 2000.

“I knew Ricky (Rodriguez) well, and talked to him about four months ago, ” Roselle said. “He had a lot of rage.” The two lived at a Children of God commune in Japan in the late 1980s.

In a statement released yesterday, the Family International confirmed that Rodriguez was the son of Maria David, and that Smith was a member of the sect for more than 30 years.

“The tragic circumstances surrounding their untimely death have brought much grief and heartbreak to Ricky’s mother and relatives, as well as Angela’s family,” the statement read.

The Children of God began in the late 1960s as a band of hippies, political radicals and “Jesus freaks” gathered around Berg, a self-described “end times prophet.”

In the early ’70s, they formed Christian communes in California and Texas — the first of dozens of small “intentional communities” that would spring up around the world.

Berg died in 1994, but his movement lives on today as “The Family.”

Other survivors of the Children of God include hundreds — perhaps thousands — of “Jesus babies” born in the 1970s and ’80s. Their mothers were young missionaries who followed Berg’s call to share sexual favors in order to bring young men to Christ.

They called it “flirty fishing.”

Steve Kent, a professor of sociology at the University of Alberta, said the highly sexual climate at Children of God communes “did real damage to that second generation.”

Kent and Roselle said there have been suicides in recent years among children who grew up in the Children of God.

“While no one can justify what he (Rodriguez) did, you can understand his frustration and rage,” said Kent, who has spent years studying the movement.

“He and others from that generation have never seen justice from all the abuse they suffered.”

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