CNN Newsroom: Born into a cult

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Born into a cult

Press » CNN Newsroom » 2007-12-05

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: You are with CNN. You're informed.

Hi there, everybody. I'm Heidi Collins.

Developments keep coming in the CNN NEWSROOM on Wednesday, the 5th of December. And here is what's on the rundown now.

Under water in Washington and Oregon. Today homeowners get ready for the big flood cleanup.

It blossomed during the age of free love. Religion or a cult that advocates sex with children? A disturbing look this hour.

[Unrelated segments redacted]

COLLINS: The shocking inside story of growing up in a cult.


RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: What was David Berg like?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was a sick (EXPLETIVE DELETED) pedophile. He was just a sick (EXPLETIVE DELETED) pervert.

CNN's Randi Kaye investigates.



COLLINS: Born into a cult. His childhood was a nightmare of sexual abuse. His life consumed by a need for revenge.

CNN's Randi Kaye reports.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You're watching a man unravel.

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

KAYE: Ricky Rodriguez had belonged to a sect that called itself The Family International. He made this chilling tape two years ago.

RODRIGUEZ: This is my weapon of choice, the K-bar knife.

KAYE: Just days after this taping, two people will die. Ricky is planning to murder his own mother.

RODRIGUEZ: She's going to pay dearly, one way or another.

KAYE: His mother, Karen Zerby, had become leader of the sect in 1994 after its founder, David Berg, died.

The group, shown here in this documentary, called "The Love Prophet," was once called the Children of God. It sprang up in the 1960s communal free love era.

Berg was a charismatic, self-proclaimed prophet. Former cult members tell us both Berg and Ricky's mom, who Berg called his queen, encouraged adult/child sex. In fact, they wrote about it.

A manifesto they called "The Story of Davidito" was the foundation of their perverted beliefs, according to many former members, Berg's how-to guide for raising sexual children. The Family International now says all "questionable publications were officially renounced and expunged between the late 1980s and early 1990s."

These photos show Ricky's nanny, even his mother, were his sexual teachers.

DON LATTIN, AUTHOR, "JESUS FREAKS": It was an experiment in this strange kind of twisted child-rearing philosophy of David Berg.

KAYE: Don Lattin's just-released book "Jesus Freaks" talks of Berg's cult.

LATTIN: He wanted his child to embrace sexuality, to be a sexual being as an infant growing up.

KAYE: This woman, Davida Kelley, grew up with Ricky in the cult.

(on camera) What was David Berg like?

DAVIDA KELLEY, FORMER MEMBER, THE FAMILY INTERNATIONAL: He was a sick (EXPLETIVE DELETED) pedophile. He was just a sick (EXPLETIVE DELETED) pervert. He interpreted, like, the law of love and the Bible and religion into a sick, perverted way, and that meant being able to violate and abuse anyone and everyone.

KAYE (voice-over): Including her, she says, when she was just 5.

KELLEY: You were only required to have actual intimate intercourse with David Berg once you were, like, the mature age of, like, 12.

KAYE: Davida says Ricky was forced to have sex with dozens of adult women, including his own mother.

KELLEY: I actually witnessed Karen Zerby having intercourse with her own son, Rick Rodriguez, at age 11.

KAYE: Berg was apparently so obsessed with sex he used it to grow his group around the world. Former members say Berg sent women out to seduce men to lure them in to accept his gospel of Jesus.

LATTIN: Berg was God's pimp.

KAYE: The Family International refused an interview with CNN, but in a statement acknowledges Berg taught sexual liberty without instituting safeguards for the protection of minors, but it says, that was corrected in 1986, and any infractions are an excommunicable offense.

The group also told us all of Davida's allegations are false and that Karen Zerby never abused her son Ricky.

Ricky would later escape from the group and marry and try to establish a new life.

ELIXCIA Garcia, RICKY RODRIGUEZ' WIDOW: He wanted the memory of his childhood to be gone.

KAYE: But he had been too deeply scarred. He wanted revenge against his mother, which brings us back to his murder plan.

RODRIGUEZ: Maybe fate will smile on me, the God of war, the God of revenge. Maybe they will grant me happy hunting.


COLLINS: Next, the final chapter. Ricky Rodriguez turns his rage on the two women who raised him. Part two of Randi Kaye's report.



RODRIGUEZ: This is my weapon of choice, the K-bar knife.

She's going to pay dearly. One way or another.

COOPER: He is a troubled young man named Ricky Rodriguez. By the time he made that video, he was trying to break away from the cult that had raised him and start again. But it ended up in tragedy.

Once again, up close, CNN's Randi Kaye.


KAYE (voice-over): David Berg referred to himself as Moses and was known as the Love Prophet. He encouraged free love and open sex between adults and children.

In some bizarre logic, he concluded the Bible called for raising a sexually enlightened child. Berg anointed this boy, Ricky Rodriguez, as his spiritual successor, but the sex abuse would take its toll on him as a man.

RODRIGUEZ: It's a need for revenge. It's a need for justice. Because I can't go on like this.

KAYE: Within hours of taping this in 2005, Ricky contacted his childhood nanny.

KELLEY: She was one of the many female adults that had intercourse with Rick Rodriguez.

KAYE: This is a picture of the two of them.

RODRIGUEZ: I don't think there's going to be much time to feel anything. Might hurt for a split second.

KAYE: In his first bloody act of revenge, Ricky murdered his nanny. He cut her throat, then left her body in his Arizona apartment. But he was not done. He was still looking for his mother.

KELLEY: He realized that he wasn't going to bring his mother to justice the way he wished he could have brought her to in a court of law.

LATTIN: Most of this abuse went on, like, 20 years ago, so the statute of limitations expired. Most of it happened outside the U.S., so it's very difficult to prosecute.

KAYE: A spokesperson for The Family told us its policy for the protection of minors was adopted in 1986. "We regret that, prior to the adoption of this policy, cases occurred where minors were exposed to sexually inappropriate behavior between 1978 and 1986."

Davida Kelley and others, who were children then, are still haunted.

(on camera) Tell me what's going on up here and in here.

KELLEY: Up here it's like -- up here it's like I'm so not OK. I'm not OK.

KAYE (voice-over): This Web site, set up by people who were children in the cult then says at least 30 of them have committed suicide, though CNN has no way of verifying that.

As for Ricky Rodriguez, he never found his mother, a failure, Ricky's wife says, he couldn't live with.

Garcia: He's like, "Baby, you love me."

And I said, "Yes, I love you. You know I love you more than anything else in the world."

And he said, "Then come and die with me."

KAYE: On a deserted road, Ricky Rodriguez died alone, a single shot to the head four years after he fled the cult.

As for his mother...

KELLEY: She's still the leader of The Family, and she needs to be brought to justice.

KAYE: But first, she must be found. Until then, she'll remain in hiding.


COLLINS: Oh boy, what a story.

Response by The Family International

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