California authorities search for members of missing cult-like church group

5 Adults, 9 Children Missing, May Have Planned Mass Suicide

PALMDALE– 5 adults and 9 children have been reported missing by their families, and officials believe the group may have planned a mass suicide related to a local church.

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Los Angeles County Sheriff’s spokesperson Steve Whitmore described the missing people as part of a “religious off-shoot group,” and described them as “cult-like,” and “fundamentalist in nature.”

The group reportedly left behind evidence indicating they were anticipating the rapture or some catastrophic event, including notes saying they were “going to meet Jesus and deceased family members.”

Further investigation by the California Highway Patrol and the LA Sheriff’s Department indicated the group intended to commit mass suicide.

The group was last seen at 1:00 a.m. Saturday at a prayer meeting in a Palmdale church at 158 East Avenue, R-4.

The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department says the missing people are believed to be Salvadorian.

– Source / Full Story: 5 Adults, 9 Children Missing, May Have Planned Mass Suicide, KTLA, Sep. 18, 2010 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Sheriff’s search for 13 members of LA-area ‘cult’

Husbands of two group members, who are from the Palmdale area in northern Los Angeles County, reported the people missing early Saturday, and sheriff’s deputies were searching for three vehicles, said Captain Mike Parker.

One of the men had a purse he was asked to hold by one of the group members, and inside were identifications, deeds to property, and letters indicating they were awaiting the end of the world.

The group’s leader, Reyna Marisol Chicas of Palmdale, 32, was among the missing, Parker said.

Earlier this year, the group had planned to head to Vasquez Rocks, a wilderness area near Palmdale, to await a similar event, but one member of the group revealed details of the trip to family members and it was called off.

“That person was ostracized from the group and kicked out,” Parker said.

– Source / Full Story: Sheriff’s search for 13 members of LA-area ‘cult’ , Thomas Watkin and Andrew Dalton, Associated Press via the Houston Chronicle, Sep. 19, 2010 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Palmdale neighbors paint different picture of presumed cult leader

Late Saturday night, authorities were describing Reyna Marisol Chicas as a potential cult leader who may have masterminded a group suicide plot that included her own children.

But former neighbors of the Salvadoran immigrant painted a different picture, describing Chicas as a simple woman who hadn’t been schooled beyond the fifth grade and could hardly keep a job let alone have a religious following.

But when Chicas and her husband separated four years ago, she became increasingly religious, he said. Chicas began attending a local church, Iglesia de Cristo Miel, several times a week, spending several hours there each visit.

Giron’s wife, Jisela, attended a few times and said Chicas was always there, her children in tow. The church, she said, was a typical Christian congregation. Sermons were in Spanish. Beyond the women dressing modestly, she said, there was nothing that made the largely Latino congregation stand out.

But she said some congregants would meet separately, in their own prayer groups outside the church, and among those groups beliefs could vary. Chicas, she said, never took on a leadership position at the church beyond greeter at Sunday services, but may have been more assertive within a prayer group.

Chicas had slowly severed social ties with the couple — no longer wanting to drink or go out as they used to.

– Source / Full Story: Palmdale neighbors paint different picture of presumed cult leader, Los Angeles Times, Sep. 19, 2010 — Summarized by Religion News Blog
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Religion News Blog posted this on Sunday September 19, 2010.
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