Manhunt ends with cult leader’s arrest
Victor Arden Barnard, 53, above, a Minnesota cult leader who had been the subject of a year-long global manhunt, was arrested on Saturday in a beach town in Brazil.
Barnard, according to this report, was wanted on 59 counts of sexual assault on girls and young women in the isolated religious community he founded in Pine County. The US Marshals Service coordinated with Brazilian military and law enforcement officials, who then nabbed him.
The arrest took place in a condominium at Pipa Beach, considered one of Brazil’s most beautiful coastal locations. Barnard was reportedly staying with a 33-year-old Brazilian woman who previously lived in the US. Federal police confiscated religious papers, diaries, computers, flash drives and cellphones from the condo.
Two young women have told Minnesota investigators that Barnard raped them after they were chosen, at ages 12 and 13, to be separated from their families and live near him as part of a cloistered group he called his “maidens” in the River Road Fellowship near Finlayson.
One of the women who stepped forward to report Barnard was Lindsay Tornambe, who was 13 when Barnard informed her parents that he had chosen her to join the maidens. She told Pine County sheriff’s investigators that Barnard raped her soon afterward, and that the abuse continued for the next nine years.
Barnard used the charismatic hold he kept over his followers to sexually exploit girls and young women at his whim, according to court papers that spell out the crimes alleged by the two young women who stepped forward to report being abused.
Barnard, facing bankruptcy and law enforcement scrutiny, had moved his family and his remaining followers to Washington state years before Pine County brought the charges in 2014. He has been the target of a national and international manhunt ever since.
Said Cindi Currie, who visited the River Road Fellowship at the invitation of Lindsay Tornambe’s mother:
I cannot wait to see that man behind bars.
She was so alarmed by what she saw, she tried to persuade the family to leave.
That man is the devil incarnate.
Years after her visit, Currie learned that her friend’s daughter had been chosen to join the maidens. Now, Currie said:
The day of reckoning has come. Not only will Victor Barnard go to jail, but every adult who knew what was going on up there can start to pay, and maybe these girls can start to heal.
Barnard’s capture brought both relief and heartbreak to Ruth Johnson, who spent more than a decade in the River Road Fellowship. She and her husband left the group after the allegations against Barnard surfaced. They left behind relatives who “refuse to see what he’s done.”
Hat tip: Denis Watkins