Richard P. Rodriguez, 29, told family members he killed his former nanny, Angela M. Smith, 51, in Tucson before shooting himself in Blythe, Calif. Police said Rodriguez stabbed Smith to death.
The Tucson Police Department was not investigating Smith for any crime, said Officer Michelle Pickrom. But Rodriguez lived all over the world with a religious sect called The Family, and it wasn’t known Tuesday whether the alleged abuse was ever reported in any of those locations.
“When he called me that night to tell me he was going to kill himself, he told me that he just wanted to be loved,” said a tearful Elixcia Munumel, Rodriguez’s wife. The couple was separated.
Rodriguez’s mother, Maria David, whose real name is Karen Zerby, is the current head of The Family, which has also been known as the Children of God and the Family of Love.
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The group, which has roots in hippie communes of the 1960s, engaged in a communal lifestyle and encouraged sex between all people regardless of age, calling it “free love,” former members said. Members of The Family did not return messages left at a toll-free number found on the group’s Web site.
Rodriguez’s mother joined the group when it passed through Tucson in the 1970s and became the wife of the group’s founder, David Berg. Berg became Rodriguez’s father figure.
“Berg wanted her (Rodriguez’s mother) to have an heir to his kingdom,” Munumel said. Smith, a member of The Family for more than 30 years, was one of Rodriguez’s nannies, she said.
“Berg encouraged sex between people in his organization and he thought it wasn’t wrong to bring the children into it – and Angela introduced Rick to his beliefs,” said Munumel, who also was a member of the sect.
She said Rodriguez was angry at his mother for allowing him and other children in the group to be abused. Rodriguez’s mother, still with The Family, could not be reached Tuesday. Former members said she lives in seclusion and moves frequently.
As a toddler, Rodriguez was photographed with Smith for a self-published book, called “Davidito” after Rodriguez’s nickname. The book contained explicit photographs and advised other parents how to raise children in the “free love” lifestyle, said Daniel Roselle, a law student and former group member who grew up with Rodriguez. He now lives in Los Angeles, but his father is still a leader in The Family, he said.
“Not only were many of us abused because of that book, but he’s the archetype for all that we suffered,” Roselle said, referring to Rodriguez.
As the heir apparent to The Family, Rodriguez was held up as an example of what children in the group should be, Roselle and Munumel said.
Rodriguez left The Family in 2000 and had been trying to move on, Munumel and Roselle said. However, a statement on an Internet bulletin board where members and former members post messages says he left to pursue his education.
Rodriguez began to speak out against the group’s leaders and told much of his story in letters online to former members. Rodriguez compared The Family’s leaders to mass murderers, saying they traumatized children.
“There’s no moral book that can explain or justify what he did, but his whole life was one of abuse and then rejection,” Roselle said.
Rodriguez had an interest in bringing The Family to legal justice, Roselle said. “He told me he wanted to be part of something that would really have an effect,” he said. Rodriguez had moved to San Diego four or five months ago, Roselle said.
On the Internet bulletin board frequented by The Family’s members a statement that claims to be from the group called the deaths Sunday a tragedy that has “brought much grief and heartbreak” to the families of Rodriguez and Smith.
“In these moments of tragedy, Ricky’s family draws comfort from the timeless promises of the Bible, knowing that he and Angela have passed into the realm of eternal justice and peace,” the statement says..
Rodriguez had moved to Tucson to be closer to a supportive aunt, Munumel said. But when he arrived here, he found unwanted connections to his past – including Smith.
In Tucson, his grandparents and another aunt and uncle operate and live at a home for the elderly. They declined to speak with a reporter Tuesday. A federal tax form for the nonprofit home – available on www.guidestar.com, a database of nonprofit organizations – shows Smith was a board member.
Smith also is listed as a director of Family Care Foundation, an arm of The Family responsible for humanitarian missions and fund raising.
A violent ending is not an unusual part of a cult story, experts say.
“Every one of these groups are potential Manson families,” said Michael Trauscht, a cult expert and a former Pima County prosecutor who has investigated The Children of God – now called The Family – and other cults.
While Trauscht didn’t have information about this specific case, he said he is not surprised about the violent act and called The Family a vicious group. He said suicides are common among cult members.
Rodriguez still felt anger and guilt about his childhood abuse, and worse, he felt burdened by what he believed was the abuse of other children in The Family, Munumel said.
“He was angry that the children they had abused had grown up and there was no justice done,” she said. “Whatever happened was all the anger and all the pain and all the hurt piled up that just came out all at once.”
Another former member recognized Rodriguez’s abuse as being some of the worst in the organization. “I get chills when I talk about this,” Roselle said. “Ricky was the sacrificial lamb for all of us.”