PINE CITY, Minn. - An arrest warrant has been issued for a religious leader accused of having sex with two girls beginning when they were just 12 and 13 years old.
A criminal complaint issued against 52-year-old Victor Arden Barnard says the defendant was the charasmatic leader of a religious group that set up a compound called "The River Road Fellowship" on some rural land near Finlayson. Prosecutors say Barnard set up a subgroup of the fellowship called The Maiden's Group, made up only of young females.
One of Barnard's alleged victims says she was asked to join the group in July of 2000 at age 13, and was largely kept away from her parents and all other adults besides Barnard. She tells authorities he claimed that he was Christ in the flesh, and that it was normal for him to have sex with her because it was God's word. Victim 1 says Barnard first engaged in penetration with her when she was 13, and the sex continued until 2009.
Victim 2 came to authorities after she confessed to Victim 1 that Barnard had molested her also, starting sexual relations when she was just 12 years old. The sexual relationship continued until Victim 2 was 20 years old. She says she was afraid of Barnard and his claims that he was Christ in the flesh. Victim 2 says the defendant was occasionally violent with her when she did not do as she was told.
Investigators say Barnard relocated from Minnesota to Washington state after his religious order splintered following news of his affairs with married women in the group. Pine County Deputies flew to Washington State but were unable to locate the defendant. Current members of the religious order refused to help locate Barnard.
Victor Arden Barnard has been charged with 59 criminal counts of criminal sexual conduct in connection with his alleged molestation of the young girls. A warrant has been issued for his arrest.