PALMADALE, CA – A group of 13 missing Salvadoran immigrants feared to be planning a massive cult-like suicide were found alive and unhurt in southern California.
The group was upset to find they were the subjects of an extensive search.
Authorities had been scouring the Palmdale area of northern Los Angeles County on horseback and by helicopter Sunday in search of the group, CNN reported.
According to Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the group included eight children between the ages of 3 and 17, and five adults.
A resident spotted one of the vehicles identified in the lookout at a park and notified the sheriff’s department, he said.
One woman, who would not provide her name, told CNN that they were “perfectly OK” and were shocked and angry to learn that such an extensive search was underway.
The woman said the group was praying all night in the park, something they had done routinely and that their husbands were aware of the practice.
Two of the missing women’s husbands reported them missing to the Sheriff’s Department Saturday, and a search began that afternoon.
One of the men said their wives were part of a “cult-like group” and had been “brainwashed” by its leader. Whitmore said the wife left a purse with her husband and asked him “to pray over” it.
The husband later opened the purse and found money, mobile phones, and notes that “talked about meeting Jesus, talked about deceased relatives soon to meet up,” Whitmore told CNN earlier Sunday.
That raised concerns that the group members planned to take their own lives, he said.
The husbands had told investigators that the group had broken away from a Christian church in the Los Angeles area and “formed a separate group that included both traditional and non-traditional practices and believs,” the Sheriff’s Department told CNN Saturday.
About six months ago, the group’s leader had taken her followers on a similar outing, that time because they believed there was going to be a major earthquake. Investigators identified the leader as Reyna Marisol Chicas.
Chicas was held for questioning after giving deputies a false name. Several members of the group spoke with investigators, Whitmore said.
No crime has been committed, and the group appeared to be praying for “honest and well-meaning things,” Whitmore said.
He said deputies had to investigate once the husbands filed the missing persons reports
“The letters themselves could be interpreted in many ways,” Whitmore said. “Now, some of the language in it could be interpreted as saying goodbye as relatives, but that’s an interpretation.”
But given the husbands’ concerns, Whitmore said, “It is better to overreact than underreact.”
Police fear 5 adults, 9 children planning mass ‘cult-related’ suicide