Four members of a New Mexico paramilitary religious sect rocked by child sexual abuse allegations were arrested while trying to flee the state in two vans full of children, authorities said Thursday.
Cibola County Sheriff Tony Mace confirmed to The Associated Press that the four members of the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps were arrested late Wednesday as deputies tried to execute a court order to pick up the children from the group's isolated compound in western New Mexico in order to interview them. Arrest warrants had been issued for the four taken into custody.
Amos River, Victoria River, Ruth River and Timothy River were arrested after deputies stopped the two vans leaving the compound, according to the Gallup Independent, which first reported the arrests.
Sect leaders previously told authorities they didn't have transportation to take the children to meet with an FBI forensic interviewer.
Inside the vans were seven children, around $1,000 in cash, luggage and road maps, Mace said.
“Basically, you could tell they were getting ready to bug out and leave the area,” Mace said. “I believe that's in an effort to try to conceal the kids from us.”
Mace said the children, believed to be ages 4 to 17, were turned over to the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department.
Investigators believe the vans may have been headed to a location in Colorado.
The group's attorney, Robert Lohbeck, said the claim the group was trying to flee was “false” and deputies knew the group was coming to meet with them.
The arrests followed failed negotiations between the Sheriff's Office and James Green, co-leader of the sect. The two sides reached an agreement to let the children be transported in a borrowed school bus to be interviewed Wednesday by an FBI forensic expert, but James Green told the Gallup Independent the agreement fell apart when Lohbeck told them to cancel.
Lohbeck confirmed he advised the parents to cancel the deal until he could review the case since he only had been hired on Wednesday.
The arrests came four days after authorities raided the group's Fence Lake compound and arrested sect co-leader Deborah Green and two other group members in connection with a child abuse investigation. Another person was arrested in Truth or Consequences.
This week, a judge ordered Deborah Green held on a $500,000 secured bond on charges that included failure to report the birth, child abuse and sexual penetration of a minor.
Sect member Peter Green, also known as Mike Brandon, also was being held on a $5 million secured bond and faces 100 counts of sexual penetration of a child after being accused of raping a girl at least four times a week from the time she was 7, according to court documents.
In a prepared statement, the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps called the criminal allegations from Sunday's arrest “totally false.”
The Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps, founded in Sacramento, Calif., describes itself as a group that is “revolutionary for Jesus” and provides a free spiritual “ammo pack” to anyone who submits a written request.
Its website is laced with anti-Semitic language and anti-gay tirades about same-sex marriage. The Southern Poverty Law Center lists the sect as a hate group.-30-