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Children of religious sect leader put in protective custody

September 20, 2010 | 11:28 am

Sect-leader

Child-welfare authorities have taken custody of two children belonging to the leader of a religious group that went missing over the weekend in Palmdale, authorities said.

Reyna Marisol Chicas, 32, was placed into an involuntary mental health evaluation after Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies found her group gathered in a park Sunday, ending a massive 22-hour search across desert terrain.

Chicas' 15-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter were among the eight minors in the group, whose members sparked concern after leaving behind farewell letters to loved ones before a taking off on a mysterious religious trip.

Both children are in the custody of child-welfare workers pending further evaluation, said Captain Mike Parker of the sheriff's department. Chicas is not recognizing her children, Parker said. The Salvadoran immigrant was described by former neighbors as a doting mother who always had her kids in tow.

"She was a fragile person and when this all came to light it seems she disconnected," Parker said. "This is a sad and difficult situation for everyone."

The other minors on the trip are back home. The group garnered nationwide interest over the weekend, after authorities launched an extensive manhunt, fearing the 13 individuals may have been following through on a suicide pact steeped in extreme Christian religious beliefs.

Group members denied plans to hurt themselves after being found comfortably gathered at a Palmdale area park Sunday morning.

-- Robert Faturechi

Photo: Reyna Marisol Chicas is questioned by sheriff's deputies. Palmdale. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

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