Sheriff’s officials say 13 members of ‘cult-like’ group reported missing by families

By Thomas Watkins, AP
Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sheriff’s search for 13 members of LA-area ‘cult’

LOS ANGELES — Five adults and eight children from a “cult-like” group in Southern California were reported missing by their families Saturday, and the group left behind letters that they were awaiting “the Rapture or some other catastrophic event,” a sheriff’s official said.

Husbands of two group members, who are all El Salvadoran immigrants from the Palmdale area in northern Los Angeles County, reported the people missing early Saturday, and sheriff’s deputies were searching for three vehicles, said Captain Mike Parker.

One of the men had a purse he was asked to hold and pray over by one of the group members, and inside were cell phones, identifications, deeds to property, and letters indicating they were awaiting the end of the world.

“Essentially, the letters say they are all going to heaven to meet Jesus and their deceased relatives,” sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said. “Some of the letters were saying goodbye to their (living) relatives.”

Whitmore said the major crimes unit, helicopter patrols and many other deputies were looking for missing people.

The group’s leader, Reyna Marisol Chicas of Palmdale, 32, was among the missing, Parker said.

The children ranged in age from 3 to 17, authorities said. The adults included the 18-year-old child of one of the members and three sisters, Parker said.

The group had been members of a mainstream Christian church. Family members expressed fears to investigators that they had been “brainwashed,” Parker said.

Parker did not know what church they had belonged to previously, and it does not appear that they had given their break-off group a name.

“We’ve got a group here that’s practicing some orthodox and some unorthodox Christianity,” Parker said. “Obviously this falls under the unorthodox.”

Authorities are searching for three vehicles: a silver Toyota Tundra pickup, a 1995 Mercury Villager and a 2004 white Nissan.

Parker said the materials the group left behind suggested they would be in the Antelope Valley area near their homes.

About six months ago, the group had planned to head to Vasquez Rocks, a wilderness area near Palmdale, to await a catastrophic earthquake or similar event, but one member of the group revealed details of the trip to family members and it was called off.

“That person was ostracized from the group and kicked out,” Parker said.

According to an emergency bulletin put out by the governor’s office, in addition to Chicas, the missing include: Norma Isela Serrano, 31, Alma Alicia Miranda Pleitez, 28; Martha Clavel, 39; Jose Clavel, 15; Crystal Clavel, 3; Roberto Tejada, 18; Jonathan Tejada, 17; Hugo Tejada, 3; Ezequel Chicas, 15; Genisis Chicas, 12; Bryan Rivera, 17; Stephanie Serrano, 12.

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