CRIME

Accused U.S. Cult Leader Reportedly Attempts Suicide In Brazil

Victor Barnard is awaiting extradition to the U.S. for multiple sex crimes.

Victor Barnard, the leader of a cult-like religious sect who was on the U.S. Marshals' "Most Wanted" list, has reportedly attempted suicide in his Brazilian prison cell.

Barnard is accused of abusing young women in his church compound for nearly a decade and is being held in Brazil pending extradition to the U.S. to face charges. He reportedly tried to commit suicide earlier this week by hanging himself with a bed sheet, and is now in the intensive care unit of a hospital in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul, according to Fox9.com

Marsh Halberg, one of Barnard’s attorneys, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune‎ he is aware of reports about his client's alleged suicide attempt and is "still waiting for more information out of Brazil before I comment."

Authorities in Washington state began searching for Barnard in April 2014, after prosecutors in Minnesota's Pine County District Court issued a warrant for his arrest. In March, Brazilian officials discovered he was living at a condominium in the northeastern Rio Grande do Norte state and arrested him. He reportedly entered Brazil legally in 2012.

Bernard now faces more than 50 counts of criminal sexual conduct, according to court documents provided to The Huffington Post.

Before he left for Brazil, Barnard led the River Road Fellowship in Minnesota, which later relocated to Washington state. The congregation is reportedly an offshoot of The Way International, a nondenominational Christian group.

The women who filed the complaint against Barnard lived at the River Road Fellowship compound in Finlayson, Minnesota, about 90 miles north of Minneapolis. One of the women contacted the Pine County Sheriff's Office in January 2012, saying she had been part of the "Maiden's Group," a group of young women between the ages of 12 and 24 who lived in the religious community.

The woman told investigators she was 11 years old when her family joined the fellowship in 1998, and that Barnard began having sex with her within two years. She left the compound in 2010.

"Barnard repeatedly preached to her that he represented Christ in the flesh, that Jesus Christ had Mary Magdalene and other women who followed him, that King Solomon slept with many concubines, that the firstborn child was to be sacrificed to God, and that it was normal for Barnard to have sex with her because it was in God's Word," the complaint states.

The second alleged victim told police Barnard started having sex with her in 2000, when she was 12 years old. The woman, who left the compound in 2009, said Barnard told her it was okay to have sex with him because he was a "man of God and she would remain a virgin because of it," according to the complaint.

Investigators spent two years building a case against Barnard before they filed charges against him. 

No further details about Barnard's alleged suicide attempt were available Friday morning.

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