September 19, 2010: Sheriff’s deputies are searching for 13 people reported missing Saturday after leaving a prayer meeting. The missing include five adults and eight children from the desert community of Palmdale in NE Los Angeles county. The 13 belong to a Christian prayer group that believes the end of the world is imminent. An alert issued by the California Highway Patrol reads, “It is believed, through further investigation, that [their] intentions are to commit mass suicide.”
Authorities began looking for the missing prayer group after two of its members’ husbands reported their disappearance to the Palmdale Sheriffs Department around 2pm. A report in the L.A. Times reveals that the men brought in a bag of belongings the group left behind which included “identification, cash, cellphones, deeds to homes and letters.”
According to the CHP alert, “The letters essentially state that they [the missing persons] are all going to heaven shortly to meet Jesus and their deceased relatives. Numerous letters found say goodbye to their relatives.”
From the L.A. Times:
But Sheriff’s Capt. Mike Parker pointed out that documents left behind by group members do not specifically mention suicide, though they do refer to “going to heaven” and the “end of the world.” He added that the missing people have no history of violence or harming themselves.
Parker said that the group, which is composed of immigrants from El Salvador, is led by Reyna Marisol Chicas, a 32-year-old mother of two. A former neighbor, Ricardo Giron, told the Times that Chicas had become increasingly religious after separating from her husband four years ago. Giron’s wife told the paper she didn’t believe that Chicas, who often babysat for her neighbors, led any kind of a group and said, “”Everywhere she was going, she was taking her kids with her. You felt like you could trust her.”
From the AP:
A man at Chicas’ Palmdale home who identified himself as her brother-in-law said early Sunday morning that he was sure the group would return.
“We see the news tonight and never think you know something like this happen,” said the man, who would not provide his first name but said his last name was Orellana. “But they’re gonna come back for sure.”
The missing prayer group had planned at least one desert pilgrimage before.
From the AP:
About six months ago, the group had planned to head to Vasquez Rocks, a wilderness area near Palmdale, to await a catastrophic earthquake or similar event, but one member of the group revealed details of the trip to relatives, Parker said. The trip was called off and the member kicked out.
Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said the major crimes unit, helicopter patrols and many other deputies were looking for the missing people.
The eight children in the group, six boys and two girls, range in age from 3 to 17.
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