Ricky Rodriguez was groomed to inherit leadership of sect called The Family. But on Jan. 8, he stabbed to death a former member, and shot himself in the head.
New Focus on Fringe Religious Sect
Child Sex Allegations Haunt Group Known For Biblical Prophecy, Sexual Freedom
This article accompanied an ABC Primetime Live video report (18:36, 46.7MB) – 2005-01-27.
A transcript is also available.
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?"
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 said.
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?" asked 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."