Fugitive Minnesota cult leader spotted in Washington

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A Minnesota cult leader who has been on the run from law enforcement officials since April, when he was charged with sexually assaulting several girls, has been seen in western Washington State, according to the Washington State Patrol.

The department released a statement saying it received a "credible tip" that 52-year-old Victor Barnard was at a McDonald's restaurant in Raymond, Washington, earlier Wednesday. When he left there, he began driving north on State Road 101 toward Aberdeen. The witness said a female passenger was with him in the car.

He was driving a dark blue Audi 2-door sedan with tinted windows and a spoiler, according to the state patrol.

A nationwide manhunt has been underway for Barnard since April 11, when a warrant was issued for his arrest in connection with a years-long investigation into alleged child molestation at a religious sect he founded in northern Pine County, Minnesota.

Investigators say Barnard molested a number of girls while he led the River Road Fellowship, and he is charged with 59 counts of criminal sexual conduct.

The Star Tribune reports that the witness contacted law enforcement officials Wednesday, according to Lt. Shane Nelson of the Washington State Patrol. Nelson said the witness, who has not been identified, saw the man believed to be Barnard about a week ago, and "something was unsettling to them.”

The witness saw the man again around noon Wednesday at the McDonald's, accompanied by a young woman, and recognized him from photos that had been distributed since he went missing, Nelson said, according to the Star Tribune.

FOX 9 first detailed allegations that Barnard sexually abused two women beginning when they were 12 and 13 years old. They were part of a group of firstborn daughters of followers whom he called “maidens.”

The Minnesota group splintered in about 2008, according to the Star Tribune, and Barnard is believed to have moved, along with some of his followers, to the Spokane area, which is in eastern Washington.

The Washington State Patrol believes Barnard has been in western Washington for the past week or so. They also believe that members of his religious sect have been helping him evade authorities for the past four months.

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