At least eight children among those missing from cult-like group [Updated]
Authorities late Saturday released the names of more than a dozen missing people -- including at least eight children -- linked to a cult-like group.
Law enforcement officials, fearing of a mass suicide, launched a major search. 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-colored Toyota Tundra, according to the California Highway Patrol, which issued an alert for them. The group was last seen at 1 a.m. Saturday at a prayer meeting in a Palmdale church at 158 East Avenue, R-4.
[Updated at 12:48 a.m.: While the search continues, Los Angeles County sheriff's Capt. Mike Parker cautioned that letters left behind do not mention suicide. Parker says the information left in a purse belonging to one of the group's members refers to the rapture, the end of the world and "going to heaven." He says the missing people have no history of violence or harming themselves.
Sheriff's deputies began investigating when two husbands of group members reported about 1:45 p.m. that they believed their wives had gone off with the cult-like group led by Reyna Chicas. One of the men told investigators he was ordered to guard and pray over the purse, but that after some time he became concerned and looked inside. There he found five cellphones, many IDs, deeds and letters, officials said.
The husbands told investigators they believed Chicas had brainwashed those missing and that they may be at risk. The cult-like group formed among a small part of a local Christian church, and all of its members are of El Salvadoran descent. The adults missing include three sisters and an adult son.]
[Updated at 12:11 a.m.: One person previously listed as a missing child is in fact an adult, so the missing include eight children.]
Here are the names of the missing, from the California Highway Patrol:
REYNA MARISOL CHICAS
NORMA ISELA SERRANO
ALMA ALICIA MIRANDA PLEITEZ
-- Richard Winton and Robert Faturechi
Photo: At her Palmdale home, Jisela Giron, a former neighbor of alleged cult leader Reyna Chicas, 32, contemplates the religious group's fate and the well-being of the missing children. Giron attended the Iglesia de Cristo Miel church with Chicas and said she never noticed anything unusual about her behavior. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times