ABC News: Tale of the Tape

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Following is a transcript of the ABC Primetime Live video report shown on the right.
Download: Video iconABC Primetime Live: Tale of the Tape (18:36, 46.7MB)

TALE OF THE TAPE

FORMER CHILDREN OF GOD MEMBER SEEKS REVENGE

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN, ABC NEWS
2005-01-27

(Off Camera) We turn now to a story inspired by what you might call a voice from the grave. A 56-minute videotape made by a young man about to kill himself. A tape that may unlock secrets of what some have called a sex-charged cult, that thrived in the 1960s, and at its peak claimed tens of thousands of members around the world. Here's Jay Schadler, with a "Primetime Live" investigation that begins with that haunting tape and leads us to surprising places.

Ricky Rodriguez, ACCUSER

I want people to know that, even though some of the things that I'm going to try to do are rather shocking, and maybe not right in a lot of people's books ...

JAY SCHADLER, ABC NEWS

(Voice Over) In words both thoughtful and disturbing, 29-year-old Ricky Rodriguez begins to unload decades of sadness and frustration.

Ricky Rodriguez

I'm just loading some of my mags here. Hope you guys don't mind if I do that while I talk.

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) The man with a gun was once a child in pain.

Ricky Rodriguez

I think I'm just really (CENSORED) in the head. I've tried so many things. Trying to -trying to somehow fit in. Somehow to find, you know, a normal life.

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) But was normal ever an option for this young man now on a violent collision course with his past?

Ricky Rodriguez

What about all the thousands of us who have been (CENSORED) over, literally? What about us? Where's our apology? There ain't even a (CENSORED) sorry.

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) Ricky Rodriguez is about to commit a terrible act of violence, though his life began in the spirit of peace and love. The Children of God was a fringe sect, born in the late '60s, and devoted to a strange brew of biblical prophecy and sexual freedom. Its membership would grow into the tens of thousands. This man, David Berg, was its charismatic leader. And this child, his heir apparent. This little boy, idolized by thousands as a prophet in the sexual revolution is now sitting in a small apartment in Tucson, getting ready to kill.

Ricky Rodriguez

Here, in our great state of Arizona, "Jesus land," as some people call it. If you catch an adult sexually abusing a minor -if you catch her in the act, you can walk up to them and execute them and it be a justifiable homicide.

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) Ricky's interpretation of the law is incomplete. In Arizona, deadly force can be used only if there's no other way to stop the abuse. But there's no stopping Ricky this night. And Ricky says nothing could justify what happened to him inside the Children of God.

Ricky Rodriguez

Thousands of us, some worse than others. A lot of you girls ... (CENSORED) I can't even compare my stories with yours.

CELESTE JONES, FORMER CULT MEMBER

There would be, I would say, weekly orgies.

FORMER CULT MEMBER, FEMALE

He'd, you know, unzip my shirt. And, you know, touch my breasts.

FORMER CULT MEMBER

We would witness acts of sexuality between adults. And often become a part of it, as well.

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) In the case of Ricky Rodriguez, evidence that he grew up in a sexually-charged atmosphere is hard to refute and even harder to look at. "Primetime" obtained this book, the group's infamous manual, once used to raise children. Many pages are full of sexual photos and suggestive captions. Much of the text was written by that self- proclaimed prophet, David Berg.

DAVID BERG, "CHILDREN OF GOD" FOUNDER

God created boys and girls able to have children by about the age of 12 years of age. My God, now he's gonna advocate child and sex?

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) The images in this book leave little to the imagination, including this photo of 2 1/2-year-old Ricky with Angela Smith, a woman some say had sexually abused Ricky more than two decades ago. Now, she was about to become his first target.

Ricky Rodriguez

I have my Glock and (CENSORED). But the truth is, this is my weapon of choice.

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) His night has begun. Ricky invites Angela to dinner. Back in his apartment, he has gathered not only lethal weapons but more instruments of torment.

Ricky Rodriguez

Got lots of (CENSORED) duct tape. I got a soldering iron. A rather crude implement, I think can work wonders, especially if it's used in the right way.

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) By early evening, Angela is dead, her throat slashed. But is Angela his only target tonight? This is Ricky's mother, Karen Zerby, seen here in the late '70s. She is the current leader of the group, now renamed Family International. And according to Ricky, she condoned sexual abuse in her own home.

Ricky Rodriguez

My own mother. How can you do that to kids? How can you do that to kids and sleep at night? I don't (CENSORED) know. My mom is gonna pay for that. She's gonna to pay dearly, one way or another.

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) By nightfall, Ricky's in his car. With a 6-pack of beer and a .40 caliber pistol, he leaves Tucson.

JAY SCHADLER

(Off Camera) For the next several hours, he keeps driving west, toward the Arizona/California border. A lonely man on a lonely road. What could he possibly have been thinking? Actually, we have a better idea than you might imagine because some time around 7:00 that night, he picks up his cell phone and calls the last person who will ever hear Ricky Rodriguez alive.

ALEXIA RODRIGUEZ, WIFE

I could hear he was driving. But he didn't tell me where he was. He was in his car.

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) Alexia is Ricky's wife. She, too, grew up in the group. And for five hours across the miles and into the night, she and Ricky carry on a chilling conversation.

ALEXIA RODRIGUEZ

And for a split second, he broke down and I could hear him sob. Just once. And then, he inhaled really deeply and with a very strong voice said, "I'm not going to cry. I'm going to be strong." And I immediately knew that something was wrong. He didn't say anything about what had happened. But I knew something wasn't right. Every so often, he would get quiet. And he would say, "oh, my God, what have I done?"

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) Of course, we know what Ricky Rodriguez has done. The question is, what is he about to do?

ANNOUNCER

Up next, is the killing over? Will Ricky Rodriguez take another victim? What other clues are on the tape?

Ricky Rodriguez

And I'm going to keep going until somebody gets her or I get her.

ANNOUNCER

When "Primetime Live" continues.

commercial break

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN

(Off Camera) We continue with a "Primetime Live" investigation inspired by the haunting 56-minute videotape made by Ricky Rodriguez, who has moved from talking about violent acts to executing his plans. How far does he go? Again, Jay Schadler.

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) Ricky Rodriguez is now somewhere between Tucson, Arizona, and Blythe, California. Somewhere between one violent act and another.

Ricky Rodriguez

As I go on my merry way, I am not going to hurt or try to hurt any law enforcement. Now, that's going to be really tough to do this without doing that. But that's where I draw the line. I am not going to hurt them.

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) But Ricky Rodriguez was still bent on hurting someone. Still angry at the group for what he says they did to him. And sometimes to girls and women. Ex-members say the cult's leader, David Berg, commanded the women in his group to perform video stripteases for him.

DAVID BERG

I practice what I preach. And I preach sex, boys and girls. Hallelujah.

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) And no one was too young. "Primetime" recently obtained this disturbing video of young girls dancing for their leader.

Ricky Rodriguez

There is this need that I have. This need. It's not a want. It's a (censored) need. And I wish it wasn't. But it is. It's a need for revenge. It's a need for justice. Because I can't go on like this.

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) Ricky's final act of violence was against himself.

ALEXIA RODRIGUEZ

All throughout the time I always knew him, he always wanted to die.

JAY SCHADLER

(Off Camera) He said that?

ALEXIA RODRIGUEZ

Yeah.

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) Police say sometime after midnight, he drove into this empty lot.

Ricky Rodriguez

I'm sort of quitting right now. But in a way, I'm not because I'm not doing it the way I want to do it. I didn't just turn tail and run. And let those (censored) win.

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) And fired a single round, ending his life.

JAY SCHADLER

(Off Camera) The real question is why he did. Why did he want to? That's what we're after here.

CLAIRE BOROWIK, "FAMILY INTERNATIONAL" SPOKESWOMAN

Well, I asked myself the same question. I asked myself that about Columbine. It's hard to understand. We live in a violent culture.

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) Claire Borowik is the spokeswoman for the Family International. She says she's deeply saddened by what has happened. But does not believe her organization is responsible, and denies Ricky was a victim of sexual abuse.

CLAIRE BOROWIK

It wasn't really an issue of sex. There was a liberal liberality that existed in our homes. That degree of liberality existed in some homes. Not in most homes.

JAY SCHADLER

(Off Camera) Well, how about, how about David Berg's own home? How about, for example, in the Book of Davidito. Here is a picture of Ricky in front of a playboy playmate. On the next page is a picture of Ricky at the breast of one of your elders.

CLAIRE BOROWIK

Mm hmm. Well, you're giving a sexual context to that. He's two years old, but ...

JAY SCHADLER

(Off Camera) You wouldn't give a sexual context to Ricky standing in front of a Playboy playmate?

CLAIRE BOROWIK

Yes, I understand.

JAY SCHADLER

(Off Camera) Why are the faces blacked out?

CLAIRE BOROWIK

Well, because back then, Father David had received some threats.

JAY SCHADLER

(Off Camera) You don't think that they were scratched out to protect their identities?

CLAIRE BOROWIK

No. No.

JAY SCHADLER

(Off Camera) You don't? I mean, I don't mean to be obtuse but it seems to me as if one of the reasons that you'd cover it up is because you don't, you got pictures of kids in sexually-compromised positions. You don't want their identities.

CLAIRE BOROWIK

I can understand you'd look at it that way. But I'd have to show you our other books so you can see that in our normal publications it had absolutely nothing sexual in it.

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) But other ex-members like Celeste Jones and Don Irwin insist that an intense atmosphere of sexuality pervaded the groups they lived in.

CELESTE JONES

I also was subject to sexual abuse. Adults teaching me, mainly, to fondle them. And also ...

JAY SCHADLER

(Off Camera) At what age?

CELESTE JONES

Five, five and six years old.

JAY SCHADLER

(Off Camera) Five and six years old?

CELESTE JONES

Yeah.

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) Celeste was barely more than that, when she, too, was asked to dance for Berg. Though Berg's ideas on adult-child sexual behavior received most of the attention, he also encouraged sex among adults through his teachings and videos as a way to bring in recruits and make money. A process he called Flirty Fishing.

FORMER CULT MEMBER

Berg had this revelation that his women needed to be fishers of men. Like Jesus called his disciples who were fishers of fish. They should be fishers of men. And basically go out and share God's love with lonely businessmen.

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) Scandalized by all these accusations and the subject of a number of police raids worldwide, the group officially renounced adult-child sex in 1986. And Borowik points out no one was ever convicted of sexual abuse.

JAY SCHADLER

(Off Camera) The family turned over a new leaf in 1986, right?

CLAIRE BOROWIK

That's right. Now we did not have any policies in place that would protect our minors. It became very clear in 1986 that that was very necessary and important.

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) Still, some believe sexual abuse continued even after the group's 1986 proclamation. And consider this, in 1988, two years after the sex ban went into effect, ABC News interviewed these young family members in South Dakota, soon after they left the group.

ABC NEWS REPORTER, MALE

(Off Camera) Did you have sexual contact with other kids?

FORMER CULT MEMBER, MALE

No.

ABC NEWS REPORTER

(Off Camera) No?

FORMER CULT MEMBER

Hmm-mm.

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) But were all of these kids telling the truth? This week, "Primetime" located one of these children. Francisco is now 25.

JAY SCHADLER

(Off Camera) Did you, in fact, have what you'd now consider to be sexual contact while you were a child?

FRANCISCO, FORMER CULT MEMBER

Absolutely. Sexual contact was part of that group.

JAY SCHADLER

(Off Camera) There is no question you had sexual contact when you were a child?

FRANCISCO

Yes. At about five years old, I experienced being matched up with another, with another child. And she was about 16 years old.

JAY SCHADLER

(Off Camera) The family maintains, even today, that in 1986, the line was drawn. After that, no more sexual contact between adults and children. Is that true? Or is that false?

FRANCISCO

Nobody came to us and told us this was changing. We didn't see a change.

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) Despite that claim, most current members of the family, including these young people, insist they've never experienced any abuse in the group, which they say is engaged in fund-raising and charitable activities around the world.

CULT MEMBER, FEMALE

If it was categorical, if it was widespread, how come I never suffered abuse. 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 witnessed abuse or experienced abuse.

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) But the reality of the family's past is complex. Steven Kent is a professor of sociology at the University of Alberta. He's an expert on the group.

PROFESSOR STEPHEN KENT, UNIVERSITY OF ALBERTA

There's no indication that the widespread abuses that went on in the family in the '70s and '80s and into the early '90s goes on now. It is the case, however, that many of the perpetrators of those vicious abuses back in the early periods still are in positions of leadership.

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) Take for instance, Paul Pelloquin, who recently ran an outreach program in Africa for the family. He appears on this tape, made for the group in the '80s.

PAUL PELLOQUIN, CULT MEMBER

You're going to turn me on, for sure, so ...

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) Court documents from 1995 identify him as a sexual abuser, who corrupted and abused young girls.

JAY SCHADLER

(Off Camera) How about Paul Pelloquin? Do you know him? Paul Pelloquin?

CLAIRE BOROWIK

No.

JAY SCHADLER

(Off Camera) Never heard that name?

CLAIRE BOROWIK

No.

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) That's odd, because Pelloquin's photo currently appears prominently on the family's own web-site. And remember that outreach program? It's for children. We tried but were unable to reach Paul Pelloquin for comment. Though the group's founder, David Berg, died of natural causes in 1994, his wife, Karen Zerby, and Ricky's own mother, has continued on as the family's spiritual leader.

Ricky Rodriguez

Man, if I don't get to her and life goes on ...

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) From his own video, it appears Ricky was hunting for her at the end of his life.

Ricky Rodriguez

And I'm going to keep going until somebody gets her or I get her. Justice will be done. Believe me.

JAY SCHADLER

(Voice Over) And in reporting this story, we discovered just how hard it may be for anyone to find her.

JAY SCHADLER

(Off Camera) Why do you think, at this crucial moment in the history of the family and in this crucial moment for Ricky and all these other second-generation kids, your spiritual leader, Karen Zerby, is nowhere to be found?

CLAIRE BOROWIK

We don't look at it as nowhere to be found. She's very present in her writings.

JAY SCHADLER

(Off Camera) Do you know where she's is?

CLAIRE BOROWIK

Do I know where? No. Not necessarily. No.

JAY SCHADLER

(Off Camera) You don't? The Pope is a spiritual leader. We know where he is. Karen is a spiritual leader. And we don't know where she is. And her son just committed suicide and murder.

CLAIRE BOROWIK

I'm aware of that.

JAY SCHADLER

(Off Camera) So, why don't we know where she is?

CLAIRE BOROWIK

That's her policy. That's all I can tell you.

ANNOUNCER

Up next, poker fever. And how this mother of four bluffed her way to a $2 million pot. When "Primetime Live" returns.

commercial break

ANNOUNCER

"Primetime" continues. Once again, Cynthia McFadden.