VICTOR BARNARD: Cult leader remains at large despite hundreds of - KMSP-TV

VICTOR BARNARD: Cult leader remains at large despite hundreds of tips

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PINE CITY, Minn. (KMSP) -

The road to finding cult leader Victor Barnard is not going to be an easy one to navigate, but investigators say they have received hundreds of tips since the Fox 9 Investigation into his alleged sex abuse.

Fox 9 Investigator Tom Lyden was the first to expose the inner workings of a Minnesota-based cult known as the River Road Fellowship after victims came forward to say a man who claims to be a spiritual leader had sexually abused them for years.

MORE: The Maidens of River Road

The blunt-talking sheriff says the trail to find Barnard hasn't gone cold, but it's hardly red-hot even though more than 200 tips have come in. That's because those tips are all over the map.

"We've got tips placing him in 2/3rd of the states in our country," Pine County Sheriff Robin Cole said.

It's possible that Barnard is no longer in the country. He has faithful followers in Brazil and Canada, but a 52-count national warrant charging Barnard with criminal sexual conduct with two girls -- 12 and 13 -- has been issued for the man who allegedly asked his victims' parents to give up their girls so they could serve him.

The case was going nowhere until the girls, who are now adults, told the Fox 9 Investigators about their story.

"He said this was his way to teach me love," Jess Schweiss said. "He wanted me to know love."

Five years ago, Barnard fled Finlayson, Minn., after he was accused of having sex with the married wives in the group; however, roughly 100 members followed him to Washington state -- and they have remained loyal.

"I'd be shocked if his followers did not know where he is," Cole admitted. "He didn't fall of the face of the Earth."

Investigators say the followers have been uncooperative, and they may be the reason Barnard has plenty of funds to stay on the run. The church sold their old Shepherd's Camp to the Salvation Army for $3.5 million -- and his former followers say Barnard was smart about one thing: He never put anything in his own name.

The trail of money leads back to Barnard's top lieutenants in the River Road Fellowship, many of whom are still devoted to him and are refusing to cooperate in the search for him.

Only a few followers remain in and around Finlayson, but investigators believe it is unlikely that Barnard will return to Minnesota. In fact, Cole now believes that the best leads could come from amateur cyber sleuths.

"Get on the computer," he urged. "If you turn up something interesting, give us a call. It's pretty hard not to leave something on the Internet. He may not be, but someone he knows."

Cole added that time is on his side.

"He's going to turn up someday," he said. "Somewhere, somehow -- he will turn up, and the warrant is not going away."

Barnard always fancied himself to be like Jesus the shepherd, but while he may still have a flock, he is very much on the lam. Anyone with information on Barnard's whereabouts is asked to call 320-629-8342.

The Fox 9 Investigators did ask Cole if any of the followers could be charged with obstruction of justice, but he said none in Minnesota could; however, those in Washington might if they are caught helping Barnard. Yet, since there is no solid evidence any of his followers knew about the sexual abuse of minors in Minnesota, they may have some level of plausible deniability.
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