Tue, Sep 21, 2010 - Page 7 News List

US religious sect leader hospitalized

AP , PALMDALE, CALIFORNIA

The leader of a breakaway religious sect was hospitalized on Sunday for a mental evaluation after she and members of her group went missing and left behind evidence that they were awaiting the Rapture or some catastrophic event.

Reyna Marisol Chicas was placed under a 72-hour mandatory hold after it was determined she was not able to care for herself or others, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Thomas Kim said.

Chicas gave investigators a false name and gave rambling answers during questioning, Kim said.

Ending a frantic search, deputies found Chicas and 12 others just before noon at Jackie Robinson Park near Palmdale after getting a tip from a local resident, sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said.

Officers had been searching a wide swath of Southern California since family members found letters on Saturday saying the group was awaiting an apocalyptic event and would soon see Jesus and their dead relatives in heaven.

The group of El Salvadoran immigrants described as “cult-like” by sheriff’s officials, was led by Chicas, a 32-year-old woman from Palmdale in northeast Los Angeles County, sheriff’s Captain Mike Parker said.

Members left behind cellphones, identifications, deeds to property and letters indicating they were awaiting the Rapture, which some Christians believe is an event during which they will be gathered together in the air and reunited with Jesus Christ.

“These letters read like a will and testament. They read like goodbye letters,” Whitmore said.

“Coupled with the two husbands that come in and tell us, ‘Our wives are missing, we believe they are under the spell of this lady,’” deputies had no choice but to treat the matter seriously, he said.

The men told investigators they believe group members had been “brainwashed” by Chicas, and one expressed worries that they might harm themselves, Parker said.

When deputies arrived at the park they found the children playing on swings and the adults on a blanket praying out loud.

The adults expressed shock at the notion that they might harm themselves, Parker said.

A sheriff’s deputy had spoken to members of the group at 3am on Saturday while they were praying in their parked vehicles outside of a Palmdale high school, Parker said.

When the deputy made contact, adults in the group told him they were praying against violence in schools and against sexual immorality, specifically premarital sex.

The 13 adults and children were in three vehicles outside Pete Knight High School, Parker said. The deputy reported everyone appeared safe and he went on his way.

Chicas used to be a member of Iglesia De Cristo Miel, a Christian congregation in Palmdale, but left about two years ago without much explanation, said Pastor Felipe Vides, who said he had spoken with the sheriff’s office.

“She appeared normal, calm. We didn’t see anything strange,” Vides said on Sunday.

Chicas apparently had formed her own religious group, Parker said.

Others who knew Chicas said she was devout, but hardly fanatic in her religious beliefs.

Former neighbor Ricardo Giron told the Los Angeles Times that Chicas became increasingly religious after she separated from her husband four years ago.

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