People dressed in black clothing stood inside pentagrams and performed blood rituals at the Hosanna Church, according to information coming from an investigation by the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office.
The nine suspects now in custody are believed to have been involved in the ritualistic practice of molesting and raping children from 1999 to 2003, when the church disbanded.
Since the story broke on May 17, details of the abuse believed to have taken place at the church has become more explicit and graphic.
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Since arrests began taking place, little or no activity at the church could be seen, after the initial seizing of carpets and computers by crime lab workers and federal agents. Sunday morning, command centers were set up to guard the church after vandals spray-painted a message in outcry against the abuse of the children, sheriff’s spokesperson Laura Covington said.
Law enforcement officers were back in full force at the church Tuesday afternoon with crime scene tape blocking the entrance to Deblin Square, a small neighborhood with several houses behind the church.
Investigators were also digging behind the church with a backhoe.
Covington said no tips were made to the investigators that anything would be found, but they were checking to be certain. As of this morning, no evidence had been uncovered.
“The sheriff said there were cult-like activities involved,” Covington said. “Some witnesses said the blood rituals took place inside pentagrams there at the church.”
The pentagrams have been cleaned away, likely by the suspects involved, Covington said, who used solvents and are now reporting to police exactly where the five-pointed stars, usually made with alternate points connected by a continuous line and used as a magic symbol, were located.
Victims have said the suspects wore black clothing while the rituals took place. Covington said it’s unclear whether the devil worshiping practices were actually aimed at praising Satan, or if they were for the sexual gratification of members. It’s also possible they were used to instill fear in the victims, who range in age from infancy to adolescence.
About 25 victims have been identified by police, and Edwards has stressed the importance of withholding their identities. The victims will receive the best possible counseling, he said, while law enforcement works to build the strongest case possible for prosecution.
The blood rituals are said to have involved the blood of cats, Covington said.
Other animals, such as cats and dogs, were also used for sexual purposes.
Only one person jailed on sexual misconduct charges has been released from the Tangipahoa Parish Jail in Amite. Lois Mowbray, 54, 39133 Keaghey Lane in Ponchatoula, was released Friday on a $150,000 bond for charges of failure to report child abuse and accessory after the fact.
All of the other suspects are being held without bond.
Both Louis Lamonica and his wife, Robbin, 45, are in the Livingston Parish Jail. They are of 15235 Oak Alley Drive in Holden. The former pastor faces two counts of aggravated rape and one count of crime against nature. His wife is charged with one count of aggravated rape.
Lamonica walked into the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office last week and began confessing to deputies about the sexual activities involving children taking place at the church.
He also began implicating other suspects involved. At the same time an ongoing investigation was being conducted by Tangipahoa Parish sheriff’s deputies. Ponchatoula police are also involved as is the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
The story broke when Tangipahoa Parish Deputy, Christopher Labat, 24, was arrested on May 17, and terminated from duty. Labat is being held in the Livingston Parish Jail for one count of aggravated rape, where he’s under jailhouse suicide watch.
In the latest arrest, FBI agents and East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputies took Patricia “Trish” Pierson, 54, into custody late Tuesday when she arrived at the Baton Rouge Municipal Airport on a flight from Tulsa, Okla.
Pierson was arrested as a fugitive and then transferred to Tangipahoa Parish, where she was booked on charges of sexual battery and principal to aggravated rape, Covington said.
Alan Pierson, 46, of 2575 S.W. Railroad Ave., Hammond, is charged with aggravated rape.
Another woman, Nicole Bernard, wanted on a charge of aggravated rape, waived extradition Tuesday in Ohio’s Franklin County Common Pleas Court and will likely return to Louisiana within 10 days, authorities said. Police say she is the whistleblower on the sex scandal at the church which prompted Edwards to begin the investigation some six or seven weeks ago.
Her ex-husband, Austin Aaron Bernard, 36, was arrested May 17 on a charge accusing him of making a girl under the age of 13 perform a sex act, which is aggravated rape.
Paul Fontenot, 21, of 550 W. Pine St., Ponchatoula, is charged with aggravated rape.
Aggravated rape is a capital offense.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report