A Collection of News Articles regarding Ricky Rodriguez
A Collection of News Articles
re: Ricky Rodriguez
- Religious Sect Has Ties To Two Local Charities
KFMBTV Local 8 News, Jan 27 '05 at 11:03PM
- Ex-sect members fear new violence They worry about more suicides -- 'dropping like flies'
San Francisco Chronicle, Monday, January 17, 2005
- New Focus on Fringe Religious Sect
ABC News - Jan 27, 2005
- Deaths in the Family Common thread of sexual, spiritual abuse among cult defectors who killed themselves
San Francisco Chronicle, Thursday, January 27, 2005
- Revenge of a son on cult of free love
The Sunday Times - World, January 23, 2005
- Suicide/murder linked to cult
PALO VERDE VALLEY TIMES
- Sex cult's messiah turns killer
Observer, Paul Harris, Sunday January 23, 2005
- >>MoreNew articles 11-20
- >>MoreNew articles 01-10
KFMBTV Local 8 News, Jan 27 '05 at 11:03PM
A religious sect that some say promoted sexual contact with children is coming under intense scrutiny after a murder-suicide in the Arizona desert. Some members of that group – called “The Family” – are on the board of directors of two local charities.
Angela Smith was a longtime member of The Family who sat on the board of The Family Care Foundation in Dulzura. She was murdered three weeks ago by a former member of the religious sect who said he was sexually abused as a child.
A peaceful ranch nestled in the hills of Dulzura in the East County. It used to be a bed and breakfast called Brookside Farm. Now, it’s home to a Christian missionary group called The Family Care Foundation.
Dulzura neighbors say the people who live on the ranch are active in the community.
“They’ll donate their time playing music, volunteer work, playing Santa for the kids or whatever,” neighbor Yvonne Reese said.
Further north in Escondido are the offices of another local charity called Activated Ministries. They distribute Christian books and videos.
Both of these local nonprofits have close ties to a worldwide religious sect called The Family.
Twenty-nine-year-old Ricky Rodriguez grew up in The Family. His father founded the group in the late 1960s. Formerly known as the Children of God, leaders advocated communal living and open sexuality – even among children.
In a home video, Rodriguez lays out his plan to get revenge for years of sexual abuse he suffered as a child. On January 8, Rodriguez stabbed 51-year-old Angela Smith to death in his Tucson apartment, and later shot himself in the head.
Smith helped raise Ricky – in a sexually-charged environment. In 1997, she also served as a director at the Family Care Foundation in Dulzura. The group has ties not only to The Family, but Activated Ministries in Escondido, and a Web site called Donate A Car To Charity.com. The executive director of the Family Care Foundation is Larry Corley.
Corley declined to answer questions on camera about the Family Care Foundation, its possible financial connection to the family, or the murder of Angela Smith.
Another longtime Family member, Grant Montgomery, is listed as the president of the Dulzura charity.
“Grant Montgomery was known as Gary, and he was the prime minister of The Family,” said former Family member John La Mattery. “So, he was one of the top three in The Family, up until the day he started Family Care Foundation.”
La Mattery also grew up in The Family. He says he was sexually abused by a 26-year-old woman in Japan when he was nine years old.
“The reality is it did happen, and they done nothing to assist us to bring justice to the perpetrators that brought this on,” La Mattery said.
The Family has acknowledged that some child abuse took place years ago. The group banned all sexual contact with children in 1986, and issued an apology, but never named the abusers.
“Some cases did come to light where there was some sexual inappropriateness that young people were uncomfortable with,” said The Family spokeswoman Claire Borowik. “When these cases came to light, it became clear that there had to be some very stringent policies.”
Now, in the wake of the recent murder-suicide, former members want The Family to come clean.
“It’s unfortunate that it has come to this for The Family to hopefully change and reform their policies and practices,” La Mattery said.
Former members have called on The Family to turn over the names of all the people who were involved in sexual abuse of children.
So far, The Family has not made any names public.
San Francisco Chronicle, Monday, January 17, 2005
San Diego -- Former members of an international evangelical sect rocked by the murder-suicide of two leading members said Sunday that more violence may be in the offing for the troubled Children of God.
Many young people who say they suffered years of physical, sexual and spiritual abuse growing up in the sect say that the latest deaths are part of a series of suicides by former members.
"We're dropping like flies," said one former member of the sect, Daniel Roselle. "There is a lot of anger out there. I'm not worried about more violence against others. But I am worried about more suicides."
Roselle gave The Chronicle a list of 25 second-generation members of the Family International/Children of God who have allegedly committed suicide during the past 10 years. Leaders of the sect deny that all of the people listed have committed suicide -- or are dead.
Dozens of these second-generation cult members -- who have demanded that their parents and movement leaders take responsibility for the abuse -- gathered in a hotel ballroom in San Diego on Saturday night to pay tribute to their fallen brethren.
They no longer belong to Family International, a freewheeling Christian sect formerly known as the Children of God, but many of these defectors still see themselves as part of an extended family of spiritual survivors.
They came together over the weekend to memorialize Abe Braaten, 27, a second-generation Children of God member who died Dec. 14 after falling from the roof of a building in Kobe, Japan.
His siblings -- including one who saw him moments before the fall -- say his death was yet another suicide among a survivor of the abuse.
Nine days ago, on Jan. 8, another second-generation member, Ricky Rodriguez, 29, shot himself after stabbing a former nanny to death in his Tucson apartment.
Rodriguez, the only son of sect leader Karen "Maria David" Zerby, grew up in the Children of God as "Davidito," the revered prince and future prophet of the self-styled Christian cult.
In a video shoot hours before the murder-suicide, Rodriguez confessed to the slaying of his nanny, 51-year-old Angela Smith, which he said was revenge for years of sexual abuse he suffered growing up in the Children of God.
The video tape, which shows Rodriguez loading his gun and admiring the edge of his knife, ends with a call for other defectors to get justice from their childhood abusers.
The raging, profanity-laced video has sent fear rippling through the families of former and current members of the sect.
"It's a war now between ourselves and our parents," said John La Mattery, 27, a friend of Braaten's, who said they met in Japan when both boys were 14 years old. "This is the cream of the crop coming back to get them."
Braaten's Japanese-born mother, Yumiko "Phoenix" Taniguchi, is one of the top leaders in the Family International today.
Braaten's sister, China (pronounced "Cheena') Taniguchi, said her brother's death, followed so closely by Rodriguez's suicide, has been a wake- up call for second-generation defectors.
"Ricky was the poster child for us kids," Taniguchi said in an interview Sunday.
Leaders of the Family International and the Family Care Foundation -- a not-for-profit charity located in Dulzura (San Diego County) with close ties to the sect -- have declined repeated attempts for interviews during the past week.
But in a prepared statement e-mailed to The Chronicle, Family spokeswoman Claire Borowik said, "We have examined the list posted of supposed suicides and have found several instances where the deaths were definitely not suicides, or were unconfirmed as police could not ascertain if the death was accidental or not."
Borowik said Braaten "was at a party and had gotten very drunk," adding that "it wasn't possible to ascertain as to what actually happened, whether he fell or jumped."
Nonsense, said Sam McNair, 25, who was with Braaten just moments before his death.
McNair said Braaten suffered a sudden nervous breakdown and was babbling about the founder of the Children of God, the late David "Moses" Berg, before he fled McNair's Kobe apartment, ran to a nearby building and leapt to his death.
E-mail Don Lattin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ABC News - Jan 27, 2005
Child Sex Allegations Haunt Group Known For Biblical Prophecy, Sexual Freedom
|Nearly two decades after it officially renounced adult-child sex in response to allegations of sexual misconduct, there are new questions about a Christian sect founded in the late 1960s with thousands of members around the world.
Earlier this month, Ricky Rodriguez, the one-time heir apparent to The Family, stabbed to death his former nanny and then shot himself dead. He left a chilling videotape alleging the sexual abuse he had suffered as a child at the hands of members of the group was too much to bear.
On the tape obtained by "Primetime Live," the 29-year-old can be seen assembling weapons. "It's a need for revenge," he told the camera. "What about the thousands of us who have been f—-ed over literally?"
Ricky Rodriguez was groomed to inherit leadership of sect calledThe Family. But on Jan. 8, he stabbed to death a former member, and shot himself in the head. (ABC News)
Others from Rodriguez's generation in the group say they have suffered too. Celeste Jones, who left the group in 2001, said when she was 5 and 6, "I also was subject to sexual abuse — adults teaching me mainly to fondle them."
The Family spokeswoman Claire Borowik says while she is deeply saddened by the murder/suicide, the group was not responsible for Rodriguez's death. She says she does not believe that he was a victim of sexual abuse: "It wasn't really an issue of sex. There was a liberal … liberality that existed in some homes, not most homes."
Borowik also noted that compounds belonging to the organization have been subject to police raids, but no member has ever been convicted of sexual abuse.
"We live in a violent culture," she said. Rodriguez had fallen under the spell of forces opposed to her organization, she said, and the murder-suicide was intended as "something that would bring down The Family altogether."
The Story of Davidito
However, it's hard to refute that Rodriguez grew up in a sexually charged atmosphere. The group founded as Children of God promoted a strange brew of Biblical prophecy and sexual freedom.
Its charismatic leader, Moses David Berg, once said: "I practice what I preach! And I preach sex, boys and girls." Berg died of natural causes in 1994.
As a child, Rodriguez was idolized as a prophet in the sexual revolution, and was the subject of a manual the group published on child-rearing, "The Story of Davidito."
Many of the pages were full of sexual photos and suggestive captions, mostly written by Berg. One read: "God created boys and girls able to have children by about the age of 12 years of age. My God! Now he's going to advocate childhood sex."
Some of the pictures show Rodriguez with Angela Smith, the woman he killed. But John, a former high-ranking member of the group who asked ABC News not to use his last name, says he thinks Rodriguez only killed Smith because he couldn't find his mother, Karen Zerby, the group's current leader. In his tape, Rodriguez voiced allegations that his mother condoned sexual abuse in her own home. "My own mother. What an evil little c—t. Goddammit. How can you do that to little kids?" he asked.
Rodriguez killed Smith on Jan. 8 after inviting her to dinner at his Tucson, Ariz., apartment. Then he drove several hours into California, and sometime after midnight, pulled into a parking lot in the city of Blythe. He fired a single round, ending his life.
Current Members Defend Group
Borowik says the organization put policies in place to protect its minors in 1986. Still some believe sexual abuse continued. A former member of the family who left in 1988 says he was never told about these new policies as a child, and that the atmosphere in the communal home where he lived had not changed by the time he left.
"Sexual contact was part of that group," said the former member, now 25 "At about 5 years old, I experienced being matched up with another child. And she was about 16 years old."
Yet most current members of the family insist they've never experienced any abuse in the group. They say they are engaged in fund raising and charitable activities around the world.
"If it was categorical, if it was widespread, how come I never suffered abuse?," said a member named Anna. "How come I, who have over 100 personal friends in The Family International all over the world, how come none of them ever told me they were abused or experienced abuse?"
Focus on the Top
Stephen Kent, a sociology professor at the University of Alberta, said the reality of The Family's past is more complex. An expert in the group, he said "there's no indication that the widespread abuses that went on in The Family in the '70s and '80s and in, into the early '90s — goes on now."
However, he said, many of the perpetrators of the early abuses are still in positions of leadership.
For instance, Paul Pelloquin, a member of the group as far back as the 1980s. was identified in 1995 court documents as an alleged sexual abuser. Yet, he was recently in charge of an outreach program in Africa for the Family, and his photo also appears prominently on The Family's own Web site.
But when asked about Pelloquin, Borowik said she never heard the name.
Jones says she has vivid memories of Pelloquin. "He was one of the main ones I remember that I had to perform fellatio on, or he would masturbate himself in front of me and I had to watch," she said.
Efforts to reach Pelloquin for comment were unsuccessful.
Borowik was also asked about the whereabouts of Zerby. Borowik replied: "Do I know where [she is]? No, not necessarily, no."
San Francisco Chronicle, Thursday, January 27, 2005
Josh was 18 years old when he left the Children of God. Three years later, he sat down at his brother's desk and shot himself in the head.
His brother, Chris, found the body. There was still color in Josh's cheeks and the smell of gunpowder in the air.
Josh left two handwritten notes, one addressed to his young sons and one to his siblings.
"He did not leave a note for our parents, and I'm sure there was a reason for this," Chris wrote in a remembrance of his brother. "Sometimes I wonder what they think about at night. ... But they have their God, and their religion to cling to -- the same God and religious beliefs that they placed above their children."
New attention has been focused on the suicide rate among children of the Children of God since a Jan. 8 murder-suicide of two leading members. Leaders of the sect founded in the late 1960s by Oakland native David "Moses" Berg and now known as the Family International acknowledge that there have been at least 10 suicides over the past 13 years by those in that group who have left the Family, but defectors say the number is much higher.
Josh and Chris -- who asked that his and his brother's last name not be used -- are among hundreds of young adults born into the sect but who later defected.
In Josh's case, difficulties adjusting to life outside the Family may have contributed to his death on Jan. 26, 1999, in Show Low, Ariz., according to Chris.
Adding to Josh's troubles, his brother said, was Josh's participation in the Victor Program, created by the Family to discipline rebellious teenagers and adults in the sect.
"Josh was part of a detention and retraining program involving sleep deprivation, food deprivation, manual labor, silence restriction and isolation," Chris said.
Friends and family of the dead say the suicides are linked to years of sexual, spiritual or physical abuse they experienced growing up in one of the most secretive sects of the 1970s and '80s.
No one outside the group paid much attention to the spate of suicides until Jan. 8, when 29-year-old Ricky "Davidito" Rodriguez, the onetime heir apparent to the Family throne, murdered his mother's personal secretary in his Tucson apartment, drove across the California border and then shot himself in the front seat of his car.
In a videotaped confession recorded before the murder-suicide, Rodriguez reveals that his original plan was to torture 51-year-old Angela Smith to get the information he needed to hunt down his estranged mother, Karen "Maria" Zerby, the current prophet and spiritual leader of the Family.
On the 45-minute-long tape, Rodriguez blames Smith, his mother and his mother's husband, Peter Amsterdam, for years of abuse that he and others allegedly suffered growing up in the cult.
More than a dozen defectors told The Chronicle that sexual activity between children, teenagers and adults occurred in numerous Children of God communes -- especially between 1975 and 1986, after which the Family maintains that it "enacted stringent policies to ensure the safety and protection of our children."
But those who have been following the human fallout from that licentious period say sexual molestation was only one of many demons driving second- generation members to end it all.
Adjusting to life in the outside world after years of isolation and religious indoctrination, former members say, can be just as traumatic as dealing with sexual abuse.
"Sex wasn't the only thing stolen from them. It wasn't even the biggest thing," said James La Matterly, a member of the Children of God in the early 1970s. "Their spirituality was stolen. God was stolen from them.''
They say "the truth will set you free," but [M.S.] isn't so sure.
"Telling the truth can destroy you," she said.
[S.] says that's what happened to her friend and lover, Ricky Dupuy, who was 17 when he joined the Children of God in Tucson in 1969. He left the sect in 1992 and died of an intentional drug overdose in Loa, Utah, on June 2, 1996. He was 44.
Dupuy was not born into the sect, and his name is not on a list of 31 suicides provided by defectors. But in many ways, his story is the same.
"He had three severe suicide attempts," said [S.], who was 15 years old when she joined the Church of God in Italy in 1977.
"He felt like a freak. He couldn't think straight,'' she said of the period after he defected. "He'd say 'my life is over.' He was a lot like Ricky Rodriguez. He had fantasies about getting an AK-47 and taking out Karen Zerby and Peter Amsterdam."
In 1993, Dupuy emerged as a leading defector and source of information about abusive practices inside the Children of God, which by then was calling itself the Family.
At the time, Dupuy revealed that many young cult members had been sent to the Victor Program. He called the retraining center an "oppressive and brutal system of thought reform" subjecting inmates to "mental, psychological and even physical abuse."
Dupuy was invited onto the "Larry King Live'' TV show in 1993 to debate officials of the sect. At one point, the officials denied that there were policies and doctrines that encourage molestation of children.
Asked by King how he knew there were such policies, Dupuy replied, "because I was ordered in the group to have sex with a 10-year-old by the leadership of the group.''
"Did you?" King asked.
"Yes," Dupuy said. "It was to get me in so deep that I would be afraid to ever come out and speak against the group.''
Dupuy later testified in a British child-custody case that he and another adult man had been asked by the child-care directors at a Family home in the Dominican Republic in November 1983 to allow two girls to masturbate them.
In his 1995 court decision, Lord Justice Alan Ward concluded that Dupuy had, in fact, been "asked to share with the girls who were only 10 and 11 years old. The little girl presented herself in a sarong with no panties. She masturbated him."
Ward identified the two girls as the daughters of two high-ranking leaders of the Family.
[S.] said Dupuy had been haunted for the last three years of his life by the abuse he committed, the confession on the Larry King show and the years of his life wasted in the Children of God.
Before killing himself in 1996, Dupuy made the following entry on the last page of his journal:
"What have I done with my life? Wasted it in the insanity of some maniacal bunch of pathological deviates. ... Some things are worse than death, and my continued existence in this unspeakable state is one of them.''
On the night of Dec. 24, 2004, Sam McNair, 25, and Abe Braaten, 27, were kicking back in McNair's apartment in Kobe, Japan. Their wives were at Braaten's place with the kids, just a five-minute drive away.
Sam and Abe had knocked back a beer or two and were watching a movie on TV.
"All of a sudden," McNair said, "he was like 'Sam, um, I'm not feeling so good. My heart is pumping real fast.' And I felt his heart and, swear to God, I never felt anything like that before. It was beating super fast. It was that quick. At that point, I thought he was having a panic attack.''
Like many young people who grew up in the Children of God, Braaten had trouble adjusting to life in the real world.
"Yeah, he talked about suicide when he was living with us," said Braaten's sister, China Taniguchi. "This is the thing about Abe -- every time it came close to his birthday, he would get super-negative. Just like, 'Oh my God, I'm already at this age, and I'm still doing nothing. ... What am I going to do with my life?' ''
Taniguchi said her brother -- who left the Family in 2000 -- was seen as an especially rebellious teenager and was often sent off to the Family's Victor Program for re-education.
"I mean, I barely saw my brother because he was always shipped off to some other place to learn some lessons -- to get 'victory' over some problem he had,'' she said. "It makes me so mad. I think that had a lot to do with the problems with self-esteem.''
The mother of Braaten and Taniguchi, Yumiko "Phoenix" Taniguchi, is one of the top leaders in the Family International today.
On that December night in Kobe, Braaten was really flipping out, McNair recalled.
He got tense. Then cold.
McNair gave him a blanket, and Braaten curled up into it.
"He started getting more and more negative and then started saying, 'I gotta go. I gotta go.' He was getting incoherent and mumbling 'Moses ... David ... mind control.'
"I said, 'Abe. Don't be talking about that now. Let's do something else.' I turned on the lights and tried to make him comfortable. I didn't know what was going on. I was just doing my best not to freak out.''
McNair blocked the door so his panicking friend couldn't get out of his apartment, but Braaten jumped out the first-floor window and ran down the street.
Minutes later, he climbed to the top of a four-story building a few blocks away and leapt to his death.
Steve Kent, a professor of sociology at the University of Alberta, has spent years studying the sect. He said the rash of recent suicides in the Family "shows the impact of their child-rearing practices" in the 1970s and 1980s.
"This is just the beginning of a major uproar among the second generation,'' Kent said.
Claire Borowik, a spokeswoman for the Family International's office in Washington, D.C., disputes McNair's account of Braaten's death and the bleak picture defectors paint.
"It wasn't possible to ascertain whether he fell or jumped,'' Borowik said. "He left no indication of intent and had shown no signs of depression.''
In a written statement, Borowik said the Family was aware of only 10 suicides among former members over the past 13 years. She said that 32,000 people had been in the Family over the past 35 years and that its current full- time membership stood at around 8,000.
"We have even been accused of causing River Phoenix's death,'' Borowik said, "even though he had left the Family at 5 and been involved in a world of drugs.''
Phoenix, a promising actor and perhaps the most famous person born into the Family, died in 1993 of a drug overdose. He was 23.
One year earlier, Ben Farnsworth, a teenager who was raised in the Family and sent to one of the sect's re-education camps, jumped to his death from a building in Hong Kong.
That suicide inspired a May 2, 1992, letter to Farnsworth's father from Zerby, the current leader of the Family International.
"Even in his death, Ben is going to have a very good effect on the Family,'' Zerby wrote. "I think it's going to have wonderful repercussions with our teens being very greatly strengthened by this.''
E-mail Don Lattin at email@example.com.
The Sunday Times - World, January 23, 2005
Sarah Baxter, New York
WHEN Ricky Rodriguez was a boy he was revered as a prince and future prophet of the free-love cult the Children of God. He was also sexually abused by cult members with the encouragement of his mother and stepfather.
Earlier this month, in a gruesome act of revenge, Rodriguez stabbed to death his mother’s former secretary, Angela Smith, then shot himself.
In a video he made just before the killings, he fondled a knife and vowed to “bring down those sick f******”, including his mother, the cult’s leader Karen “Mama” Zerby, also known as Queen Maria.
The murder and suicide in Tucson, Arizona, has convulsed the Christian missionary sect, now known as The Family International, and revived allegations of rape and sexual abuse by former members.
Rodriguez, 29, was known to all members of the Children of God as Davidito. His late stepfather, David Berg, founded the cult in the 1960s and sent female members “flirty fishing” for new members as “sacred prostitutes”.
Berg was an advocate of free love who sanctioned child abuse and incest. Former members describe him as a paedophile who devised a religious philosophy to justify his longings.
In The Story of Davidito, a manual for cult members, Rodriguez’s sexual abuse as a toddler is described explicitly and enthusiastically. There are pictures of him lying in bed with naked teenage girls and attending orgies. One photograph portrays him undressing in front of “Sue” (Smith). Another shows Smith naked with one of his nannies.
In the video he made the night before Smith’s murder on January 8, Rodriguez blames his mother for the abuse he suffered: “It happened to thousands of us . . . some worse than others. My mother is going to pay for that. If I don’t get her and life goes on, I will keep hunting her in the next life. There is this need I have . . . It’s a need for justice because I can’t go on like this.”
From the videotape it appears that Rodriguez intended to torture Smith, 51, into revealing the whereabouts of his mother. Although Smith had been living outside the cult in recent years, she remained a valued member of 30 years’ standing.
“We’re in a war here,” Rodriguez vowed on film. “I’ll get one person, that’s for sure — the source of my information.”
Rodriguez invited Smith to his apartment in Tucson and stabbed her several times before slitting her throat.
The sect claims to have communes in 100 countries, including Britain, Japan, India, Greece, Portugal, Thailand and the Philippines but does not disclose where its leaders are.
Zerba’s present husband, Peter Amsterdam — known as King Peter — circulated a memo to members last week, saying: “There are some people who are exploiting this tragedy and trying to use it to their own ends to hurt Mama and me and the Family and tear down our work for the Lord.” He said Rodriguez had been “overcome by forces of darkness”.
Rodriguez left the “Family” in 2000. He married another cult member, Elixcia Munumel, who became as disillusioned as he was, but they had recently separated. After killing Smith he rang his wife in distress. “He said the hardest thing for him had been that as (Smith) was dying, she didn’t understand what she had done wrong.”
Disaffected people born into the cult had formed a group called www.movingon.org to share their experiences. Celeste Jones, 29, who lives in the Midlands, is compiling a dossier in the hope of bringing charges of sexual abuse against members of the “Family”.
Jones spoke to Rodriguez on the telephone the day before he killed Smith. “He sounded very depressed and upset,” she said. “He had felt all his life that he was just a pawn in the game, a political commodity.”
Jones was raised in the cult and attended orgies from the age of five. “They would show you what to do and put you with adults and children. By the age of 11, I was sick of sex because I had seen it all and done it all.”
The Family International presents itself as a Christian fellowship. In 1986 it publicly renounced sex with children.
Abi Freeman, 47, a spokeswoman at its commune in Luton, said that in the early days of the Children of God “nobody thought to say the sexual freedom we can enjoy as consenting adults does not extend to children”.
The group claims a “small core of apostates” is fomenting trouble, but the term infuriates Jones. “I didn’t choose to join,” she said. “I was a child.”
PALO VERDE VALLEY TIMES
By Marty Bachman
Video made by victim claims Children of God religious group sexually molested and physically abused children of members
A suicide in Blythe on Jan. 9 has attracted international interest as the background of the victim and his relationship with an alleged Christian cult has come to the forefront.
Richard Rodriguez, 29, of Tucson, Ariz., was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his car in the vicinity of Main and 14th Ave. Blythe police investigators, who had contacted Rodriguez’s family in Lakewood, Wash., learned that he had informed them of a murder he had committed in his apartment in Tucson. Blythe police contacted Tucson officials who went to the apartment and discovered the body of Angela M. Smith, 51, of Tucson. Smith had been stabbed multiple times.
As Tucson police continued to investigate the murder, it was discovered that Smith was a member of the Children of God (COG) religious organization and had had a part in the rearing of Rodriguez, whose family were also members of the religious order.
David Berg, who preached a version of Christianity out of the mainstream, founded the group, known as the Family, in the 1960s. Past members of the Family, including Rodriguez, have accused Children of God adult members of having engaged in rampant and serial sexual acts with minors. The cult has been the subject of investigations concerning child abuse allegations throughout the world.
A Web site created by children of Children of God members who have left the fold (movingon.org), is rife with letters and tales of rapes of children as young as age 4 by members of the group. A history of the Family, as depicted on the site, said that Rodriguez’s mother, Karen Zerby, who was renamed Maria and is known as “Mama,” was a companion of Berg’s and together, they viewed Rodriguez as being “a divine prince, destined to lead the Children of God through the biblical endtime.”
The Web site posting described Rodriguez’s childhood as being “spent in a highly controlled environment characterized by intense indoctrination, stringent discipline, and sexual initiation by adults.”
After Berg’s death in 1994, Zerby became the leader of the Family and, together with Steve Kelly, known as “Peter,” or the Husband,” act as central figures in the organization.
In a videotape Rodriguez made just days prior to the murder and suicide, he discussed his motives for killing Smith and his own subsequent suicide.
“The main reason is that I want there to be some record of the way I feel, my ideas, just who I was, really,” Rodriguez said, speaking into the video camera while loading bullets into gun clips. “I thought I’d have an opportunity to do this in March but I learned the opportunity was going to arise this weekend.”
Rodriguez was referring to the arrival in Tucson of Smith, who called on him while she was in town and made plans to have dinner with him.
Rodriguez then apologized for “having to cram” in reference to his having to load the gun clips and make the video simultaneously.
He said that thoughts of suicide began with the infamous “teen training,” a schooling alleged to involve barbarous treatment and sexual demands of the children of cult members.
Rodriguez mentioned several methods of suicide he had planned before settling on firing a shot from a .40-caliber Glock into his head, which he later did on a Blythe street corner.
He also displayed a knife he said would be used to kill Smith, whom he implied had a significant role in the sexual abuses that occurred to him, comparing her death to “taking out the trash.”
“It’s a horrible thing when adults contemplate suicide,” Rodriguez said. “It’s worse for a little boy — when you (expletive) him over because you’re a sick pervert.”
Rodriguez claimed that the sexual abuse happened to thousands of children of COG members, and that the abuse wasn’t only sexual. He did say that the sexual abuse of the girls was worse than what happened to boys.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “It shouldn’t have happened to anyone.”
He said that while the abuse was a problem for all the children, his was worse in that, as heir to the religious order, he was kept secluded from the other children and so basically, only around the adult “perverts.”
He said that it was his love of martial arts that led to his fascination with knives as was a desire to be able to stand up to a group of strong men and hold them accountable. He said that while he knew that people would view what he was going to do as being wrong, he saw it as extracting revenge, justice and making a difference.
“I’ve seen how ugly humans can get,” he said. “I don’t want it to go on — I just want it to be over.”
At one part of the video, he displayed a drill covered with padding to muffle any noise, duct tape to gag Smith, and a stun gun, equipment he said would be used to torture her so he could extract information from her. His main targets were to be his mother and Peter (Kelly).
“If I don’t make it,” he said, “Hopefully someone else will pick up the torch — somebody will do something.”
His main incentive, he said, was not only to feel better, but for the thousands of kids he said were being sexually abused.
“I have a need for revenge, a need for justice,” he said. “Anger doesn’t explain how I feel about these people and what they’ve done. I feel livid. This will be liberating.”
He said he had no desire to hurt any law enforcement officers, saying he respected them, even though the justice system had let him down. He talked about seeing the movie “White Noise” before dying and how he would like to hunt traffickers who steal little kids in Indonesia and use them as sex slaves.
“Like what they did to us,” he said. “We were slaves just for these sick, (expletive) pleasure.”
He closed the video by encouraging the other children of COG members to keep fighting the fight.
“Some of us will be around to watch them burn,” Rodriguez said, prior to signing off.
Blythe police detective/sergeant Jeff Wade said he has been contacted by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, as well as ABC’s 20/20 Prime Time and NBC’s Dateline, which plans to do filming in Blythe today for a segment on the murder/suicide.
“Every day these people are alive and free is a slap in the face to the thousands of us who have been methodically molested, tortured, raped, and the many who they have as good as murdered by driving them to suicide,” Rodriguez wrote in an Aug. 14, 2004 Web posting linked to Movingon.org.
Peter (Kelly), in a memo to COG followers, said that the media is trying to make Rodriguez look like an innocent victim, ignoring the fact that he actually murdered someone.
“No matter what his motives might have been, and no matter how overcome by the Enemy and forces of darkness he was at the time, that does not justify his killing someone,” Kelly wrote. “Ricky was 29 years old. He made his own decisions — decisions that Mama had nothing to do with. To the contrary, Mama went to every length she could to love Ricky, to try to communicate with him, and to pray for him. This turn of events is very sad for Mama and me; we never wanted Ricky’s life to turn out this way. But it did, because of his choices.”
Observer, Paul Harris, Sunday January 23, 2005
The 'gentle' heir to a Sixties sect killed his former nanny and then himself on an Arizona desert highway
Ricky Rodriguez grew up being hailed as a messiah. Born into the notorious sex cult The Children of God, Rodriguez was raised amid a bizarre blend of free love and apocalyptic Christianity. Its founder, David Berg, prophesied that one day Rodriguez would lead it.
Yet now he is dead. Two weeks ago 'gentle, caring' Rodriguez brutally murdered a cult member, and then shot himself in the head on a lonely stretch of desert road in Arizona. The deaths have shocked America and highlighted the dark history of the cult, which has branches in Britain and across the world.
It has revealed graphic allegations of sexual abuse, surreal beliefs and countless shattered lives in a group that sprang from the counter-culture of Sixties California. It is also a tale of 29-year-old Rodriguez's doomed struggle to come to terms with his past after leaving the cult and the terrible revenge he plotted against members he claimed had sexually abused him as a child.
Gradually a picture of his last days is being pieced together. Friends of Rodriguez said he had struggled to cope with entering the world outside after his exit from the Children of God in 2000.
For Sarah Martin, another former member, the first sign something had finally gone dreadfully wrong was when Rodriguez phoned her in the middle of the night just before the murder.
'He just said he had been up late doing a lot of thinking,' Martin said. Rodriguez told her he had sent her a video. Martin was pleased as she had often urged him to record his experiences of abuse. But by the time the it arrived in the post Rodriguez was already dead.
Martin watched the tape in horror to see the usually well-mannered Rodriguez swearing frequently as he displays an array of guns. He methodically loads bullets into a Glock pistol and vows revenge on his own mother, Karen Zerby, known as Mama Maria, who now leads the cult.
He also shows off a large knife, a drill and a soldering iron. He would use these as torture tools, he says in a commentary, to extract information from people about his mother's whereabouts. 'I was shocked. When I lived with him this man never swore. He was a very gentle person, very caring,' Martin said.
Exactly what happened is not clear. What is known is that Rodriguez met cult member Angela Smith, his former nanny, whom he had accused of sexually assaulting him as a child. Smith, 51, was later found dead with her throat cut in Rodriguez's apartment in the city of Tucson, Arizona.
Rodriguez then drove his Chevrolet Cavalier into the desert, rang his former wife to confess to the killing and fired a bullet into his own brain.
Former cult members said Smith was close to Mama Maria and privy to her secrets. 'He was after information. He knew that this woman was his mother's eyes and ears,' said Martin.
Certainly Rodriguez left no doubts in the video as to his intentions, vowing: 'We're in a war here. I'll get one person, that's for sure - the source of my information [Smith].' He would continue to hunt down his mother, even in the afterlife, he promised.
The cult that Rodriguez was born into was one of the strangest to emerge from Sixties America. Its founder, David Berg, was a former preacher who had been sexually abused as a child. He started the cult with a potent blend of free love and prophesies of the end of the world.
Women members became 'hookers for Jesus' to raise money for the cult, and went 'flirty fishing' to draw in potential converts by having sex with them.
The cult attracted a few celebrities, notably the parents of the late actor River Phoenix and former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Jeremy Spencer. However, underage sex, incest and paedophilia occurred, and were even encouraged, by the cult leadership and their literature.
When Berg married Rodriguez's mother the young child - hailed as 'The Prince' - found himself proclaimed as the future leader of the cult. Dubbed 'Davidito', he was held up as an icon of the group.
A tome called The Davidito Book was distributed to members, chronicling his upbringing, and showed the baby Rodriguez watching orgies and having his genitals fondled. Smith is pictured on a bed with the young Rodriguez. A caption reads 'Undressing... for Sue!', the name Smith used in the cult.
However, the group was eventually hit by a series of scandals and underwent a radical image change. It apologised for any former abuse in 1994 and abandoned many of its previous sexual tenets, especially those involving children. It renamed itself The Family International, and now has about 4,000 adult and 4,000 child members spread over about 100 countries.
When Berg died in 1994, Mama Maria was elevated to leader. Her whereabouts is now kept a close secret. Rodriguez was heir apparent, but he shocked the cult by leaving. 'Davidito was central to our lives,' said former member Jonathan Thompson 'He was a Christ-like figure.'
Rodriguez befriended a network of disillusioned former members. Many, like him, saddled with the legacy of sexual abuse, were not equipped for a world outside the cult. They had little education and few relatives or friends.
Rodriguez struggled. He moved to Seattle with his wife but the couple separated. He became a vocal critic of those he said had sexually abused him. Thompson met him last summer. 'He seemed very, very sad and bitter about life in general.'
Many unhappy former followers of the Children of God have committed suicide. Martin's own brother has killed himself and her sister once slit her wrists.
Eventually Rodriguez's obsession with tracking down Mama Maria began to take over his life. He began posting threats on internet websites set up by former members of the cult.
'Something has to be done about these child molesters,' he once wrote.
The cult's spokeswoman, Claire Borowik, said claims of sexual abuse by Rodriguez and other former members had been exaggerated, and the murder of Smith was being used to unfairly tarnish the organisation. 'This has been the pattern in the past,' Borowik said.
She denied that Smith had abused Rodriguez. 'The blatant lack of respect for the loss of Angela's life is appalling. One would think she had committed the crime rather then been the victim.'
Internal memos sent by Mama Maria after her son's death have urged members not to believe what they read about it in the press or on the internet. They say bitter ex-followers are waging a campaign against the cult.
'They're trying to make Ricky look like a hero and role model, ignoring the fact that he actually murdered someone,' one missive from Mama Maria said.
'The media is being contacted and fed extensively by some of our most hostile apostates.'
But the now former members hope something will be done to reinvestigate their claims. It would not be easy. Many of the alleged incidents happened abroad many years ago and involved cult members who were not using their real names.
'An entire generation of adults who left the family have been trying to get justice for years, but they have been frustrated in their efforts,' said Dr Stephen Kent, an expert on the cult, at the University of Alberta in Canada.
Former members now hope the deaths of Rodriguez and Smith will finally lead to a full investigation of the cult's activities in the Seventies and Eighties.
'This is a tremendous tragedy for Ricky and Angela,' said ex-member Daniel Roselle. 'But we need justice now. Something good has to come out of all this.'
[ homepage ]