PONCHATOULA, La. – Police have now arrested eight people suspected of involvement in the alleged sexual abuse of children and animals by a group of church members described by authorities as “cult-like.”
Authorities say as many as a dozen adults from Hosanna Church may have been involved in victimizing as many as 24 children, ranging in age from infants to teens. Those arrested include the church pastor, a sheriff’s deputy and a woman who triggered the investigation with a call from Ohio.
The eighth person arrested was identified as Lois Ann Mowbray, 54, of Ponchatoula, who was booked late Thursday with obstruction of justice, failure to report a felony and accessory after the fact to aggravated rape.
The investigation opened five weeks ago when Nicole Bernard, called from Columbus, Ohio, saying she had fled from Louisiana out of fear for her child, authorities said. On Monday, pastor Louis Lamonica walked into the Livingston Parish sheriff’s office, allegedly started talking about the crimes and his involvement and giving the names of others.
Lamonica, 45, was arrested and booked on two counts of aggravated rape and one count of crime against nature. His wife, Robbin, was booked Thursdsay on one count of aggravated rape.
Authorities acting on information provided by Lamonica arrested 24-year-old Tangipahoa Parish sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Blair Labat on counts of aggravated rape and malfeasance. He was fired and placed on a jailhouse suicide watch.
Austin Bernard, 36, who authorities said worked with the youth group at the church, was charged with allegedly forcing a girl under the age of 13 to perform a sex act. Bernard’s wife is Nicole Bernard. She also was arrested Thursday and charged with aggravated rape.
Allen R. Pierson, 46, who lived in an apartment on the church complex, was accused of raping a girl who was 9 or 10. Another church member, Paul Fontenot, was also arrested Thursday and faces a charge of aggravated rape.
All were jailed without bond. Rape of a child under 13 carries a possible death sentence in Louisiana.
A former church member said that in recent years, the church, where Lamonica’s father once served as pastor, had dwindled to only a few secretive members and the younger Lamonica had split with his family, not allowing his mother to see her grandchildren or enter the church.
“He put a restraining order on this wonderful woman and simply refused to reconcile,” said Kitty Morrison, who once taught when Hosanna Church had a school. “She hasn’t seen the children in two years or more. People asked him to reconcile with his mother, who was heartbroken. His father influenced thousands of lives, including my brother, and helped him enter the ministry.”