April 17, 2014 | Volume 119, Issue No. 16

Religious leader sought by police

The leader of a religious group that was formerly based in Finlayson is facing 59 felony counts of criminal sexual conduct after being officially charged by local authorities on Friday.

Photo courtesy of Fox 9 News/KMSP-TV
Victor Arden Barnard is facing 59 felony counts of criminal sexual conduct after being officially charged by local authorities on Friday.

Victor Arden Barnard, 52, originally of Pine County, was formally charged by the Pine County Attorney's Office. These charges result from a multi-year investigation by the Pine County Sheriff's Office into Barnard's behavior while he was ministering to a religious group in the Finlayson area.

A nationwide warrant was transmitted by the Pine County sheriff on Friday for the arrest of Barnard, who was last known to be in the Spokane, Washington, area. The Pine County Sheriff's Office is coordinating with the state of Washington and Homeland Security for the apprehension of Barnard.

According to the official complaint, in early January 2012, a 24-year-old woman contacted the Sheriff's Office alleging she was sexually abused by Barnard from age 13 through 22 years of age.

She told an investigator that her family joined the church called "River Road Fellowship" when she was 11 years old. The group had multiple pieces of land and one particular section was called "Shepherd's Camp." In July 2000, the women said Barnard set up a group of young females at this camp and they were invited to join a group called "Alamoth" or the "Maiden's Group."

The woman said this was a summer camp and decided to join. Nine other females, from 12 to 24 years of age, also were in the group.

Barnard began giving sermons to the group about giving themselves to God, the complaint said, and said it was a privilege and honor to be in Alamoth, which means virgin. The woman said she only saw her parents occasionally and usually in the company of another Maiden.

Barnard taught the women that he represented Jesus Christ to them, the complaint said. During the investigation, it was learned that Barnard previously moved out of his house that he shared with his wife and children and told the congregation he was dedicating himself to God, and lived in a home on the property referred to as the lodge.

The woman said she was first sexually assaulted when she was 13. She said that Barnard preached that he represented Jesus in the flesh. She said that she felt she had to do what Barnard said. There were numerous times through the years the woman was sexually assaulted by Barnard, the complaint said. The witness further said that Barnard called her to the lodge, and many times an assault occurred. She said other girls in Alamoth were also called to the lodge but they never discussed what happened there. Barnard, the complaint said, told the woman to never discuss what happened there, including with her parents or authorities.

Barnard would get very angry at people who were going against what he wanted, and the woman reported she was hit by Barnard, resulting in bruises.

When she was 14, the woman said she had a meeting with Barnard, her and her parents and said that Barnard asked if it would be OK to have sex with the girl. The woman said she believed her parents already knew and felt they were OK with his behavior.

In 2009, the woman was asked by Barnard to visit a former Maiden, then living in Brazil. At this time, her parents moved back to Pennsylvania, and a large portion of the group moved to Washington state. There had been a division in the group since Barnard admitted having sexual relations with multiple married women in the group. Barnard visited the woman in Brazil, and the woman came back to the United States and on to Washington. In 2010, the woman left for Pennsylvania before Barnard got back from Brazil.

In 2011, the woman was contacted by another former Maiden who left the group a few years earlier. The second woman said she was having difficulties because Barnard had sex with her from the time she was 12 until she was 20. This was the first time both spoke about their experiences with Barnard.

In January of 2012, the second woman spoke to authorities for the first time. She kept a card that she said was given by Barnard after the first time they had sex that read, "I have you in my heart and I'm so glad to be waiting and watching and longing together for our beloved lord Jesus Christ."

The second woman said she resisted advances by Barnard, who told her she would remain a virgin, since Barnard was a man of God. Like the first woman, she was sexually assaulted and Barnard told her not to tell anyone else, the complaint said. During 2001 and 2002, the woman marked an x on the calendar whenever she had sex. These calendars were turned over to authorities. Later in 2002, Barnard found out about the calendars and would not continue to let her use them.

Later, the second woman said she participated in a ceremony called the "Salt Covenant" in which girls pledged to remain unmarried, virgins and loyal to Barnard for their entire lives.

She further stated when she did something that Barnard did not like, she would get a "reproof," which was a type of discipline that was violent. This happened when she was 14 to 16 years of age.

In 2004, the woman said there was a calendar placed where the Alamoth Group lived for scheduling time with Barnard.

The woman said she was having a hard time dealing with what happened after she left the group in 2009 and attempted suicide in 2011.

Two other people spoke to authorities in 2012, one of whom said they felt like leaving, but felt they would lose everything if you did not follow Barnard. Another said that boys and girls were separated, and after his parents left and then came back, the teen boy was not invited to come back.

In November 2012, a Pine County investigator flew to Washington and coordinated with local authorities in an attempt to interview Barnard about the allegations.

Members who were associated with Barnard in Minnesota said Barnard was not there. Many attempts to make contact with Barnard with these followers were futile.

"The Pine County Sheriff's Office has spoken to multiple former members of River Road Fellowship who confirmed Barnard's power over the group through his status as their minister," the complaint said. "They also detailed his interactions with female members of the group and described the females as treating Barnard 'like a rock star,' fawning over him. The Pine County Sheriff's Office has been unsuccessful in its attempt to locate Barnard or to make contact with any other current or former members of Alamoth."

The maximum penalty on each of the counts is up to 30 years in jail.

Anyone who may have information as to the whereabouts of Barnard, call the Pine County Sheriff's Office Tip Line at (320) 629-8342.

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