Murder suspect, a suicide, raised by cult to lead

The Family, a spiritual counterculture religious group, saw Richard Rodriguez as preordained to be its spiritual leader.

Richard Rodriguez was raised to be the spiritual leader of a tightly knit religious organization of 12,000 followers.

Instead, his life ended Saturday when he shot himself in the head hours after allegedly stabbing Angela Smith to death in Tucson.

Rodriguez left the Family International in 2000 but was still haunted by what he experienced growing up in its rigid structure, said Celeste Jones, a friend who also had left the Family and spoke to him the day before he took his and Smith’s lives.

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“He was very upset and thought there was no justice,” said Jones, who now lives in England.

Rodriguez had worked to make those who raised him, including Smith, believe he was not upset.

“He wanted them to think everything was OK,” Jones said. “That was part of his plan.”

What he did was likely an act of vengeance for abuse he received as a child, Jones said.

Tucson police detectives believe Richard Rodriguez’s motive for killing Angela Smith is rooted in their past, but are having difficulty nailing down just what that motive was.

“Richard believed she (Smith) was responsible for something that happened to him in the past,” said Detective Sgt. Mark Fuller, in charge of the police homicide detail.

But, Fuller said, detectives have not been able to confirm what it was Smith may have done to Rodriguez.

Smith had helped raise Rodriguez, “maybe like a nanny,” Fuller said.

A spokeswoman for The Family International denies the group, which she calls a communal organization, did anything to hurt Rodriguez.

“Ricky was not the subject of corporal punishment,” said Claire Borowik, who lives in the Washington, D.C. area. “He lived in a liberal environment and it was not something he dealt with.”

Moreover, Rodriguez left the family on good terms and started to display rage only after he began talking to a group of former members.

Smith was not a member of the Family at the time she was killed and hadn’t done anything to Rodriguez that would give him a motive to kill her, Borowik said.

“Angela was a beautiful human being who never hurt anyone,” she said.

But the group does have more lax sexual norms than most societies, Borowik said.

In 1986, the Family was forced to impose age limits for who could sleep with whom, she said.

The Family abused children in a variety of ways, said Stephen Kent, a professor of sociology at the University of Alberta.

The family regularly practiced corporal punishment and was imbued with a relaxed sexual ethos, Kent said.

“The inner circle of this organization was highly eroticized with few if any boundaries between children and adults,” Kent said.

“Ricky went through a tremendous amount of physical and sexual abuse as a child,” Kent said.

The group considered Rodriguez special and he was the subject of a book called “The Davidito” chronicling his upbringing.

Rodriguez was born to Karen Zerby, who ran the Family along with its founder, David Berg. Rodriguez did not know his real father but Berg filled that role, Jones said.

The Family believed Rodriguez’s place in the group had been preordained, Borowik said.

“We believe in prophecies, that he would play an important role in the group,” she said.

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