Sunday, March 1, 2015 1:24 pm
An American cult leader suspected of sexually assaulting several girls, some reportedly as young as 12, has been detained in Brazil, police said Saturday.
Police tracked down 53-year-old Victor Barnard, wanted on 59 counts of sexual assault, in the beach resort of Pipa near the northern city of Natal after a search coordinated with US authorities, Globo television reported.
Barnard, who founded his River Road Fellowship sect in the US state of Minnesota, is accused of a series of assaults over the course of nearly a decade. He was the subject of an international manhunt.
According to the US Marshals Service, Barnard set up a campsite near the town of Finlayson in 2000, urging several followers to let their daughters live with him there.
The young girls, whom Barnard referred to as “maidens”, were housed in a separate area at the isolated camp, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Minneapolis.
From 2000 to 2009 he allegedly sexually assaulted some of the girls, before moving his family and church to Washington state, the Marshals said.
US media reported that two women came forward to investigators reporting that they had been assaulted at ages 12 and 13 by Barnard, while part of his “maidens” group.
“I am ready to have him locked up,” Lindsay Tornambe, who said she first came into contact with Barnard at age 13, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
“As soon as I got the news (of Barnard’s arrest), I started crying. It feels so surreal. I knew the day would come, but it finally came and it’s almost numbing,” she said.
The self-proclaimed pastor was added to the US Marshals Service’s list of 15 most wanted fugitives in November. A $25,000 award had been offered for information leading to his arrest.
The Marshals Service said Barnard was charged with the assaults in April 2014 and had been on the run since.