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Missing members of 'cult-like' Palmdale church found alive and well, sheriff says

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said Sunday that it had found the 13 members of a "cult-like" church in Jackie Robinson Park east of Palmdale.

All were alive and well, according to the department.

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.

The group was believed to be traveling in three vehicles: a white 2004 Nissan Quest, a 1995 white Mercury Villager and a newer-model silver Toyota Tundra, according to the California Highway Patrol, which issued an alert for them.

Parker said that documents left behind by group members do not specifically mention suicide, though they do refer to "going to heaven" and the "end of the world." He added that the missing people have no history of violence or harming themselves.

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."

Parker said one of the husbands told deputies that he feared that the adults had been "brainwashed." Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said the children were ages 3 to 17, including six boys and two girls.

The adults, including three sisters, belong to a religious sect that broke off from a Palmdale church whose name was unknown, Whitmore said.

Among those missing, the CHP alert said, is Reyna Marisol Chicas, 32, described as the leader of the group.

But former neighbors of Chicas painted a different picture, describing the Salvadoran immigrant 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.

"She was a good mother, always with her kids. She was not fanatic," said Ricardo Giron, 51.

Giron said his family was close to Chicas' family. Giron's family members said that Chicas often lied about minor things -- like her job status -- but was a devoted mother. Their children would ride bikes and play computer games together, they said, and on more than one occasion took camping trips to Yosemite with other families.

Giron said Chicas would baby-sit, caring for the Giron children along with her own, Ezequel and Genisis, who authorities said were also missing Saturday night.

"Everywhere she was going, she was taking her kids with her," he said. "You felt like you could trust her."

When Chicas and her husband separated four years ago, she became increasingly religious, Giron said. She began attending a local church several times a week, spending several hours there each visit, he said.

-- Robert Faturechi in Palmdale

Comments () | Archives (19)

They better charge these morons for the resources they used!!

The teachings of CHRIST or prosletyzation could be very dangerous today in the World. According to the reporter, and I hope him or her is wrong and did not understand teachings of these people, but as the quote states:Parker said that documents left behind by group members do not specifically mention suicide, though they do refer to "going to heaven" and the "end of the world." This statement here, the END OF THE WORLD, should not be taken out of context of the Whole Scriptures. In the first place, according to the HOLY BIBLE, NOBODY KNOWS exctly when the World will come to an END. Do NOT get me wrong now, this WORLD as we see and know it will definetly end. But, when, NO one knows. Not even JESUS KNOWS the hour or day. Secondly, the BIBLE gives several prophetic references that must first come to pass before we start visualizing when the World will end. THE ANTI-CHRIST MUST come first, and many other things are going to happen before the final event of World ending. We CHRISTIANS are warned in the book of TIMOTHY 4:1-2, ...that some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons... such teachings come through hypocritical liars..Let us be very careful CHRISTIANS how we (HERMENEUTICALLY) interpret the scritures.

"But former neighbors of Chicas painted a different picture, describing the Salvadoran immigrant 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." That's exactly the type that gets fanatical about religion....and lack of formal education doesn't mean a person can't be a leader, social predator and/or persuasive


What's the difference between a "cult-like church," and any other "church?"

Ok, so this is how the cops work. Is your neighborhood a war zone? Buy a gun, you're told, because the cops are broke.

Now, what happens when a dozen people who shouldn't be in the country legally at ALL take off on a self-styled religious pilgrimage? Look out, here comes every single police agency of the Southland hot on their trail, even though nothing in the letters they left behind suggests the cultists are planning to off themselves.

Money is no object all of a sudden. The media do their part, breathlessly calling it a "suicide pact". And...the cultists are found safe. Taxpayers pick up the bill. How about calling ICE for once, oops that's illegal.

Ok, now rewind about a month or two. Two aborted fetuses wrapped in 1930s newspapers are found in a basement in Westlake. Despite the chances of the perps OR the moms still being alive after eight decades being about zip, the cops will spend whatever it takes to solve an 80 year old case! Taxpayers pick up the bill.

Of course, to fund these media hogging flights of fancy, YOU will be written ever more tickets on the freeways. What's that? Your neighborhood is a war zone at night? Buy a gun, homie. The cops are occupied.

Jau: No, for starters they need to be carefully, and respectfully, interviewed by capable social workers.

And if they had gone to Heaven and met Jesus, they would have found a dark-skinned Jew who looked like Osama Bin Ladin.

They would have all cried and denounced him because they "wanted a White man to worship, just like they had been taught".

I'm trying to figure out why I should care about this. However, it's not lost on me that the story comes with an ad for "online pastor degrees" attached to it.

Jau, you've got to be kidding. It's not this group's fault that their neighbors went into a hysteria over their plans. They have every right to do what they did, as wacky as it may be. Forgive me if I don't want the police/government bringing charges every time someone does something "weird".

Jau, you're wish is against the rule of law in the United States. It's not their fault that their neighbors went into a panic. I'd hate to live in a country where the police/government decided on a case by case basis whether to bring charges or seek reparations because they deemed behavior to be "weird".

Good grief! What next?

This is a prime example of a modern-day witch hunt. How their little prayer outing made national news is the real story.

I agree with you David. I do not see anything they did that is any crazier than a so called normal church. Members of the normal church say they will see relatives when they go to heaven. They also claim the "End of days is near". Look at the crazy things Pat Robertson said after Hurricane Katrina. I do not take my cell with me when Im go camping or carry the deed to my home. Does that make me a fanatic?

Jau wrote:

"They better charge these morons for the resources they used!!"

Whether you recognize it or not, in this world where all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God, by what right or standard to you judge them or their religion to be moronic and your way of life and thinking on matters superior?

Also most Police investigations into missing persons involve pursuing the whereabouts of people who have nothing to do with religious cults. So do the authorities bill these individuals money for their time and services rendered in tracking them down?

What crime was committed which necessitated police involvement?

Freedom of Religion, Separation of Church and State?

Freedom of Religion, Separation of Church and State?

As crazy as that whole situation was, I am still happy they were found alive. Especially the kids


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