A Minnesota youth minister is wanted for 59 counts of sexual abuse. Authorities said Victor Arden Barnard sexually assaulted at least two girls, who were members of the church’s “Maiden’s Group.” The youth group, which was restricted to young girls, was founded by Barnard in 2000.
The suspect is the self-proclaimed leader of a religious sect called The River Road fellowship. Although the church was founded in Minnesota, Barnard eventually relocated to Washington state.
Both victims said they were abused at the Minnesota compound between 2000 and 2009. As reported by KARE 11, Barnard claimed he was “Christ in the flesh.” Officials said the youth minister used his self-imposed religious authority to manipulate and sexually abuse the young girls.
The abuse was initially reported by a woman, who is identified as “Victim 1.” The woman said she joined The Maiden’s Group when she was 13 years old. As a member of youth group, the victim said she was isolated from her family and friends.
Victor Barnard reportedly molested the Victim 1 for a total of eight years. When she questioned his behavior she was told that the youth minister was following “God’s word.”
Following the initial claim, authorities were contacted by a second victim, who is identified as “Victim 2.” The second victim said Bernard abused her for a total eight years, beginning when she was 12 years old. Victim 2 was also a member of The Maiden’s Group.
Both victims said they attempted to escape the youth minister’s advances. However, he often became angry and violent when they disobeyed. According to family, friends, and former church members, Barnard was charming yet intimidating.
Former church members said the fellowship eventually split, as Victor Arden Barnard admitted having sexual relations with numerous married women.
Authorities investigated the victims’ claims and have charged the youth minister with 59 counts of sexual abuse. Although a warrant was issued for Barnard’s arrest, his current location is unknown.
KSTP News reports “authorities are conducting a nationwide manhunt” for the self-proclaimed religious leader. Authorities believe he may be in Washington state. However, he reportedly fled his last known address.
Anyone with information about Victor Arden Barnard’s whereabouts is encouraged to contact the “Pine County Sheriff’s Office Tip Line at 320-629-8342 or Chief Deputy Blackwell at 320-629-8380.”
Authorities are also asking any former or current victims to report Barnard’s activities to local law enforcement. The youth minister is currently facing 59 counts if sexual abuse. However, more charges could be added to the initial complaint.