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Palmdale neighbors paint different picture of presumed cult leader

September 19, 2010 |  2:04 am

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.

"She was a good mother, always with her kids. She was not fanatic," said Ricardo Giron, 51, a Palmdale man who was Chicas' neighbor.

Giron said his family was close to the Chicases. They said 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 -- and on more than one occasion took camping trips to Yosemite with other families.

Chicas would babysit, 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."

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.

They last saw her at the church about six months ago.

"This is hard to believe. Cult leader? She was not a serious person, very simple, not professional, not prepared" said Giron.

 -- Faturechi, Robert