Mon, May 05, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Former member of sect recalls life on New Mexico ranch

AP , CLAYTON, NEW MEXICO

For 16 years, he followed a man who calls himself Michael, finally settling along with other families on a former ranch in a remote corner of New Mexico.

There were red flags along the way, but John Sayer did not break away from the apocalyptic church until late 2005.

Michael “said God told him that he was supposed to sleep with seven virgins,” 36-year-old Sayer recalled.

Two were to be Sayer’s daughters, then 14 and 15.

“I just told him no. ... I’m not in agreement. I don’t see it’s right,” Sayer said.

Sayer, his wife and daughters left the compound, although his daughters returned. His youngest was still living there when she was removed by the state Children, Youth and Families Department last week, Sayer said.

Two girls and one boy, all under 18, were taken from the compound amid allegations of inappropriate contact between minors and the sect’s 66-year-old leader. Sayer said he has spoken with his daughter by phone, but has been advised not to discuss the state custody case.

State District Judge John Paternoster has issued a gag order.

Sayer said Michael Travesser — whose real name is Wayne Bent — did sleep with seven virgins, but all were over 18 and did not include his daughters.

Sayer said his daughters “lay naked” with Michael, although they said no sex was involved. He said he doubts his daughters were molested, but “anything’s possible.”

MESSIAH

Bent, who said God anointed him Messiah in July 2000, wrote in a posting last Wednesday on the church’s Web site: “There was never any child molestation, or adult molestation by anyone, including myself. There has never been ‘sex with minors’ or anything remotely approaching that.”

District Attorney Donald Gallegos said on Thursday the investigation stemmed from a tip.

“I believe it was one of the parents — who no longer are at the compound — had a concern that led to the investigation by the department, which later involved the removal of the children,” Gallegos said.

Sayer’s younger daughter wrote on the church’s Web site: “Michael DID NOT molest me, and my laying with him was not sexual in any way, either. Michael sacrificed himself and was willing to look like a pedophile so that I might be bonded inseparably to the Father in Heaven.”

Bent’s Lord Our Righteousness Church settled in 2000 in northeastern New Mexico near the Colorado line, where flatter ranch land gives way to tree-studded rock outcroppings. Families in the compound live in recreational vehicles, tents and modular buildings scattered across the property.

NICE, SMART, WEIRD

Sayer said Bent, whom he described as quiet, nice and smart, got weird around 1999.

“He was claiming to be God,” Sayer said.

Sayer said the community, around 80 people when it moved to New Mexico from Sand Point, Idaho, is down to about 50.

“They’re in their own heaven on earth,” he said. “They say they’re on the sea of glass. Their lives are transparent. ... They do what the Father wants them to do.”

He said Bent has told him God talks to everybody at the ranch.

“I can’t judge it,” Sayer said. “Every person’s got their own relationship with God.”

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