An FBI evidence team has wrapped up its search at a church where authorities suspect members engaged in cult-type activities involving the sexual abuse of children and animals.
Investigators would not say Thursday what they found at the Hosanna Church as they dug on the church grounds, other than construction debris and an old carpet.
The suspected nine core members of the alleged cult have been arrested and the next major step will be to send the case to a state prosecutor, authorities say.
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“Right now, it’s still in the fact-finding mode,” District Attorney Scott Perrilloux said. “It’s a law enforcement issue, but when they’re done, they package it and the case file is sent to us.”
Perrilloux will have 60 days from the time of the arrests to present the case to a grand jury. Public defenders have asked for bond hearings for four of the suspects next week.
Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards said he believes the core members are in custody, though other arrests are still possible. Late Wednesday, one of the suspects, Nicole Bernard, was returned from Ohio to face an aggravated rape charge.
The investigation opened five weeks ago when Bernard called from Ohio, saying she had fled from Louisiana out of fear for her child, authorities said. On May 16, 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.
The church hosted worshippers from both Livingston and Tangipahoa parishes, located east of Baton Rouge and north of New Orleans.
Lamonica, 45, was arrested and booked on two counts of aggravated rape and one count of crime against nature. Seven other people face charges.
Police searched a storage unit in Columbus, Ohio, after Bernard told them it contained evidence. Officers took mattresses, videos and nine garbage bags full of costumes from the facility, according to a search warrant.
Authorities have been investigating witness statements that people dressed in black clothing stood inside pentagrams and performed blood rituals at the church. Police, sheriff’s deputies and the FBI have been interviewing potential victims, which authorities said ranged in age from infants to teens.