A Minnesota cult leader who took advantage of young girls has been sentenced to 30 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting two of his teenage “followers.”
Victor Arden Barnard, 55, was extradited from Brazil in June in order to be tried for living with a group of 12 to 24-year-old girls as part of the River Road Religious Fellowship in Finlayson, Minn. Often dressed as a shepherd, he reportedly told his followers that he was a Christ figure and encouraged them to have sex with him.
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Barnard presided over about 150 acolytes in a large camp in Pine County, where he handpicked around 10 young girls to live in isolation from their families and serve as his “maidens.” Among the girls separated from their families were Lindsay Tornambe and Jess Schlinsky, who endured years of abuse before going to the authorities in 2012.
On Friday, Tornambe recounted in court the damage that nine years at Barnard’s hands has inflicted on her mentally and emotionally, citing PTSD, suicidal thoughts and anxiety, among others:
“I used to see Victor as this powerful and monstrously strong man,” Tornambe said. “I am his downfall. … He cannot break me. … He is the one that is weak. He will be known all over the world as a sexual predator.”
Schlinsky also delivered an impact statement, saying that she was 12 when Barnard first asked her for sex. She said no, but he proceeded anyway:
“I was terrified of making him angry so I didn’t struggle,” she said. She didn’t struggle against him for the next eight years, she said, because, “I lived in constant fear of him.”
At 14, she tried to get pregnant, hoping Barnard would send her away, she said. But that year he got a vasectomy.
She marked the assaults in a journal or calendar, she said. When Barnard discovered the journal in 2005, he burned it. He didn’t know about the calendar.
Schlinsky tried to run away several times, she said, but she had nowhere to turn and always got pulled back amid fear or humiliation. “I wanted out so badly.”
Barnard left Pine County in the late 2000s, later slipping off to Brazil to avoid the accusations of abuse brewing against him. (He managed to make it across the border before charges were formally filed.) He was charged in April of 2014 with 59 counts of criminal sexual conduct, and was placed on the U.S. Marshals Service most-wanted list.
In February of 2015, he was arrested by Brazilian authorities “in an apartment near a paradisiacal white-sand beach in northeastern Brazil.”
The 30 year sentence came as part of a plea deal.