Missing members of a break-off religious group, who were reported missing by their families Saturday, have been found alive and well at a park in Palmdale.
The 5 adults and 8 children were spotted late Sunday morning at Jackie Robinson Park in Palmdale, according to sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore.
The group of El Salvadoran immigrants had left letters saying they were anticipating some apocalyptic event, and would soon see Jesus and their dead relatives in heaven.
They also left behind cell phones, identifications and deeds to property.
The items came from a purse that a member of the group had left with her husband Saturday and asked him to pray over. He eventually looked inside, and then he and another member’s husband called authorities.
The men reported the group missing at 2:00 p.m. Saturday.
A sheriff’s deputy made contact with the group around 3 a.m. Sunday outside Pete Knight High School in Palmdale.
The adults in the group said they were praying against violence in schools and against premarital sex.
The group is led by Reyna Marisol Chicas, a 32-year-old woman from Palmdale, according to sheriff’s Captain Mike Parker.
Watch a video report by KTLA’s Carolyn Costello
Missing members of ‘cult-like’ Palmdale church found alive and well, sheriff says
A massive search for the members began Saturday after family members contacted authorities, saying they feared the group was planning a mass suicide.
The last time the group had been seen was when a deputy reported seeing them while on patrol at Knight High School in Palmdale around 3 a.m. Saturday. That sighting was before the group had been reported missing, according to Sheriff’s Capt. Mike Parker.
The group members, authorities said, were very cooperative and told the deputy they were praying to end school violence and sexual immorality. All appeared to be there of their own free will, Parker said.
Parker said they may have visited other schools or other locations where their prayer goals were relevant.
Authorities began the search after the husbands of two group members walked into a Palmdale sheriff’s station at 2 p.m. Saturday carrying a bag of belongings that the missing people left behind, including identification, cash, cellphones, deeds to homes, and letters, officials said.
“The letters essentially state that they [the missing persons] are all going to heaven shortly to meet Jesus and their deceased relatives,” the alert said. “Numerous letters found say goodbye to their relatives.”
Missing Calif. sect members found praying at park
Chicas used to be a member of Iglesia De Cristo Miel, a Christian congregation in Palmdale, but left about two years ago without much explanation, said Pastor Felipe Vides, who said he had spoken with the sheriff’s office.
“She appeared normal, calm. We didn’t see anything strange,” Vides told The Associated Press on Sunday.
The church has about 400 members, mostly immigrants from Latin America, Vides said.
Chicas apparently had formed her own religious group, Parker said. About 12 to 15 people would gather at her home in Palmdale, a high-desert city of 139,000, and one night about a week ago, they didn’t leave until 2 a.m., said neighbor Cheri Kofahl.
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