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Nationwide manhunt for accused cult leader charged with sexual abuse

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A man Pine County officials accuse of being a cult leader has been charged with 59 counts of sexual misconduct involving two of his underage followers, according to reports.

Victor Barnard, who is believed to be somewhere in Washington state, was charged last week following a years-long investigation, the Star Tribune says. Authorities say the 52-year-old man ruled over a camp of "maidens" in east-central Minnesota and abused the teenage girls while they lived apart from their families, according to the paper.

A nationwide warrant was issued Friday for the arrest of Barnard, according to reports.

KARE 11 reports Barnard is accused of having sex with two girls starting in 2000, when they were just 12 and 13 years old. The abuse lasted nearly a decade, reports say.

Prosecutors say Barnard was the leader of a religious group that set up a compound called The River Road Fellowship in Finlayson, Minnesota. River Road Fellowship is an offshoot of The Way International, which is biblical research, teaching, and fellowship ministry headquartered in Ohio, according to KSTP. Prosecutors says he also set of a subgroup of the River Road Fellowship called The Maiden's Group, which was made up of only young females, according to KARE 11.

The two women who say they were abused by Barnard shared their story with FOX 9 in February.

KMSP-TV

FOX 9 reports Barnard and the majority of the suspected cult's members left the area in 2008 when the sexual abuse claims first surfaced, and moved to the Seattle and Spokane areas of Washington. Pine County Deputies flew to Washington State but were unable to locate Barnard, KARE 11 says, and current members of the religious order have refused to help locate him.

The Pine County Sheriff’s Office said it is coordinating with Washington state officials in pursuing him, the Star Tribune says. Anyone with information about Barnard’s whereabouts is urged to call the Sheriff’s Office tip line at 1-320-629-8342.

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