MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Authorities have issued a nationwide warrant for a 52-year-old man accused of having sex with two underage girls while ministering to a religious group in Northern Pine County.
Victor Arden Barnard, originally of Finlayson, Minn., faces 59 felony counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in connection to the alleged abuse that occurred from 2000 until 2009.
The Pine County Sheriff’s Office says the charges are a result of a multi-year investigation into Barnard’s behavior while being the leader and minister of the River Road Fellowship, which had a camp in Finlayson.
Along a dead-end road west of Finlayson, Barnard built the religious camp. Neighbor Dale Reed says the group was self-sufficient, butchering their own meat, growing food — and kept largely to themselves.
“They did stay by themselves. They didn’t mingle with rest of the township or the rest of people in the territory,” Reed said.
But according to investigators, Barnard told the cult members he, represented Christ. He allegedly convinced them to give up their teenage daughters, where they lived separately with Barnard at what he called Shepherd’s Camp.
“He was able to use spiritual coercion, spiritual intimidation and creating a very large dependence on him, as the adult of the group and he took advantage of that,” Pine County Chief Deputy Steven Blackwell said.
The girls saw their parents only occasionally. According to Investigators, Barnard began having sex with a couple girls as young as 13. He allegedly told them he represented God’s flesh, it was OK and not to tell anyone.
“These 59 counts are all individual acts against these two victims and we’re hoping other victims will come forward, because we believe there are more acts to charge,” Blackwell said.
After 12 years of abuse, one of the girls told her story to authorities, the complaint said. Barnard fled the camp some of his religious followers — and police in pursuit.
Barnard’s last known location is Spokane, Wash. Now, the Pine County Sheriff’s Office is coordinating with the State of Washington and Homeland Security for the apprehension of Barnard.
Anyone who may know his whereabouts is asked to call the Pine County Sheriff’s Office tip line at 320-629-8380.