Child welfare workers backed by State Police have removed four children from a doomsday cult in northeastern New Mexico, whose leader has acknowledged having sex with followers and being with “virgins that laid upon my bed, naked.”
The children— three girls and one boy— were removed beginning April 22 because of allegations that they may have been subjected to inappropriate contact, said Romaine Serna, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Children, Youth and Families.
She said the District Attorney’s Office and State Police are investigating alleged misconduct by cult leader Wayne C. Bent— known to his followers as Michael Travesser.
Bent is a lanky, bearded man in his mid-60s who had predicted the end of the world last Oct. 31 and says he is the second coming of Jesus.
He has denied having sex with the virgins.
In a posting on the group’s Web site, Bent said he is enraged by the removal of the four children.
“Since the children were kidnapped, I have not taken food,” he wrote. “The fury is still so great within me, I cannot eat. I awaken in the night and feel it.”
Quoting the “Great I Am,” Bent added:
“You kill My children, and I will kill your children. … I will give (Satan) permission to take your lives and burn you in your fire.”
A threatening letter to Gov. Bill Richardson was posted on the group’s Web site Tuesday.
“Now that you have moved against us because of our faith, the cup of God’s anger is full to the brim, and now He is free to move against you,” said the letter, whose author was listed as Jeff Bent.
‘I started to see God’
Wayne Bent and his 50 or so followers in The Lord Our Righteousness Church established Strong City, or Travesser, in 2000 in rural Union County after relocating from Arizona, according to the cult’s Web site.
In an episode of the show “Inside” to be broadcast May 7 on the National Geographic Channel, two young females at Strong City tell of lying naked with Bent.
“He just held me and it was like a whole new picture opened up to me of God,” one says.
The second says, “It was like all of heaven was open to me. Somehow I started to see God.”
The ages of the females aren’t disclosed in the clip of the episode that was available Monday on the Web site of the National Geographic Channel.
On the Strong City Web site, Bent, writing as Travesser in September 2007, tells how seven virgins came to him in 2006 and asked to lie naked on his bed.
The virgins asked for sex, but Bent said he refused.
“I had a meeting with the girls and told them all that I would not be having an intimate union with them as they had requested. Some of the girls began to cry, for it was strong upon their hearts,” he wrote.
Bent said the virgins stopped coming to him in June 2007 and he was never “appointed by the Father to have sexual intercourse with them.”
At least two of the seven virgins were minors, according to the episode of “Inside.”
“Nakedness is another symbol of our relationship with God,” Bent says in the episode. “We are naked and unashamed.”
A girl wrote on the Strong City Web site in December 2007 that she was one of the virgins who had been naked with Bent. She said she was 16 at the time.
“There has been much talk about Michael and that he had sex with the seven virgins and that he molested us,” the girl wrote. “I am the ‘youngest virgin,’ and I testify that these things did not happen at all.”
The girl wrote that Bent had been wrongly accused of being a pedophile.
Serna said the allegations that girls were naked with Bent “is a huge concern and very alarming, but it is not the only issue we will be assessing.” She declined to provide more details.
In a posting Thursday on Strong City’s Web site, Bent said he didn’t “lay around having sex all day with numerous women. … This is not a sex cult.”
But Bent has written about a 21-day “consummation” in 2000 with two women who are known to his followers as the Two Witnesses because they are credited with seeing the Messiah come to Bent.
He also has written about sex with a daughter-in-law after he made a covenant with God.
Accompanied by State Police officers, representatives of the Children, Youth and Families Department removed the four children from Strong City during at least two trips to the community beginning April 22.
One of the three girls is 13, and another is believed to be about 17, based on information on the Strong City Web site. The boy who was removed is 16.
Serna said she didn’t have additional age information for the children, who were interviewed after their removal.
She said two of the children remain in state custody, a third volunteered to be placed by the state and the fourth was released to her parents, who don’t live in Strong City.
Serna said the department took the action after receiving information April 21 about alleged inappropriate contact with the children.
The agency’s job now is to assess whether the parents of the children have neglected or abandoned them, placing them at risk, the spokeswoman said.
Serna said the District Attorney’s Office and the State Police are conducting the criminal side of the investigation. A spokesman for the State Police didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
This is not the first time CYFD and law enforcement have looked into activities at Strong City, but Serna said no children were previously removed.
According to Strong City’s Web site, State Police and FBI agents visited the community in 2002 to investigate allegations that cult members planned a mass suicide.
The Web site also says children in the community were questioned in 2004 after an unannounced visit by State Police officers, sheriff’s deputies and state social workers.
Original title: State Seizes Kids From N.M. Cult