MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO/AP) — The former leader of a rural Minnesota religious community who fled the U.S. after facing sexual abuse charges was captured Friday by Brazilian military police.
According to the Brazilian newspaper Globo, 53-year-old Victor Barnard was arrested in a beach condo on the country’s northeastern coast. Taken into custody with him was a 33-year-old Brazilian woman.
Barnard, originally from Finlayson in Pine County, was added to the U.S. Marshall’s 15 Most Wanted list in 2014.
According to a statement from the U.S. Marshals Service, authorities eventually determined Barnard was living in Brazil. Investigators then coordinated efforts with Brazilian law enforcement to take the fugitive into custody Friday.
Authorities are holding Barnard in Brazil, pending formal extradition to the United States to stand trial for the charges in Minnesota.
He led the River Road Fellowship in rural Pine County, but moved with the group and his family to Washington State after being investigated for sexual abuse allegations.
Barnard was charged with 59 counts of criminal sexual conduct involving two underage girls, who were members of his “Maidens Group,” between 2000 and 2012
The group lived apart from his main church community, and contained several females between the ages of 12 and 24. Authorities say Barnard told the girls that having sex with him was God’s word.
A former member of Barnard’s religious group, Lindsay Endsley, told WCCO about her experience, and her reaction to his arrest.
“It’s kind of numbing, it’s like a wave of emotions. I can’t even put it into words,” she said.
Endsley, 28, says her parents were followers of Barnard’s River Road Fellowship and, as part of the cult, they agreed to give her up to Barnard when she was 12 years old.
When one victim came forward to Pine County authorities, Endsley says she was part of a devoted group that fled to Washington State with Barnard.
“He tore our family apart, and so many families,” she said.
According to Globo, items seized by authorizes included bible scripture, diaries, computers and flash drives.
Local and federal officials, including the U.S. Marshall’s Office, have been looking for Barnard since last April.
The Brazilian newspaper also says Barnard legally entered Brazil two years ago.
He was last spotted in the U.S. leaving a fast food restaurant near Aberdeen, Wash. in August of 2014.
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