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Investigators chase tips to track cult leader charged with sexual abuse

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Law enforcement officers in Minnesota and Washington state are following dozens of leads in their search for Victor Barnard, the Minnesota minister charged with multiple felonies in connection with sexual assaults on teenage girls.

The Spokane Spokesman-Review reports that Washington officers and the U.S. Marshals Service are scouring the area around Spokane, the last known residence of the 52-year-old, who previously lived in Pine County. Lt. Shane Nelson of the Washington State Patrol told the newspaper that officers are canvassing his previous residences and “contacting known associates that he’s talked to.” Nelson said in the last few days, “we’ve acted on 20, 30 tips.”

KREM-TV in Spokane reported that Barnard's wife is currently renting a home in the southern part of Spokane County. Sources told the station that Barnard may visit a home in the area that doubles as a church on Sunday.

Barnard faces 59 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with two girls who told investigators that they were 12 and 13 years old when the sexual abuse began. Barnard is believed to have left Minnesota in 2009 after being confronted about allegedly sleeping with married, adult women. “A large portion of the group” moved along with him, according to the charges.

Officials are “relatively certain” that Barnard has not crossed the U.S. border, according to Pine County Sheriff Robin Cole. “As far as we know, he is in the continental United States," Cole said. “We’re not going to leave a stone unturned looking for this guy.”

FOX 9, which first interviewed two women accusing Barnard in February, broadcast a story with deep background on the cult leader.

The story said that Barnard graduated from the Breck School in 1979. At 19 he met Dr. Victor Wierville, a charismatic religious leader who became his mentor. Wierville founded a religious sect called The Way International and was later accused of brainwashing and having sex with female followers. Hundreds left the group in the late 80s, and Barnard was one of them.

A spokesperson for The Way International confirmed that Barnard got a degree in theology in 1986 before leaving in 1990.

Barnard delivered sermons around the Twin Cities in the early 1990s, when the story said that his "theology was becoming more radical." In 1996, Barnard's River Road Fellowship christened Shepherd's Camp in northern Pine County. Barnard had 150 followers and began taking their firstborn daughters as his so-called "maidens."


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