Columbus Dispatch: Columbus woman says she escaped cult horrors

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Columbus woman says she escaped cult horrors

The Columbus Dispatch/1993-09-16, NEWS LOCAL & NATIONAL 08C
By Robert Ruth
Dispatch Staff Reporter

News reports from Argentina about a religious cult that sexually abuses children are all too real for a 19-year-old woman living in Columbus.

The woman, whose parents have been leaders in the Children of God sect for more than two decades, was a member of the group herself until escaping 17 months ago.

Law enforcement authorities in Buenos Aires raided 10 Children of God homes earlier this month. Eighteen adults have been indicted on charges including kidnapping, corruption of minors and religious and racial discrimination. Authorities also took 268 children into protective custody.

Two of those children - Samuel, 17, and Angelina, 16 - are siblings of the woman. She wants to fly to Buenos Aires and try to bring them to the United States.

The woman, who does not want her name revealed, already has contacted the American embassy in Buenos Aires and an assistant of the Argentine federal judge overseeing the case.

The woman came to Columbus after her escape last year because relatives live in central Ohio.

One of those relatives, John E. Lloyd of the North Side, told The Dispatch he and other family members want to adopt Samuel and Angelina.

"We're glad she (the 19-year-old woman) is back," said Lloyd, a real estate agent with King Thompson/Holzer-Wollam. "Now we want to get Angelina and Samuel here."

An account has been established at Bank One for donations to cover the expense of bringing the woman's brother and sister to the United States. The account is the Save the Children Fund, c/o John E. Lloyd, P.O. Box 340504, Columbus, 43234-0504.

During two recent interviews, the woman recounted what she characterized as 18 terrifying years in the Children of God. The sect's communes throughout the world are operated like concentration camps for children, she said. Children are beaten for the most minor infractions, she added. Heterosexual and homosexual rapes of children are commonplace and incest is rampant, she said.

Children and adult women provide sexual favors to government officials and prominent businessmen in South America in an effort to discourage investigations, she said.

Cult officials repeatedly have denied similar allegations in the past, labeling them trumped up charges by disenchanted or mentally ill former members. Children are forced to work and study the writings of the cult's leader, [[David Berg]], for up to 16 hours a day, the Columbus woman said. Their work includes household chores and selling propaganda videotapes, audio cassettes and posters on the street, she said.

Youngsters drop off to sleep listening to tape recordings of Berg's religious rantings, the woman said. "It was always annoying listening to him yelling in your ear when you're trying to get to sleep."

Children are separated from their parents and are not allowed to establish friendships with others in the sect, she said. "They want you to be totally dependent on the COG (Children of God) and David Berg."

Born in London, England, the woman lived in Children of God communes in Germany, Italy, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Brazil and Mexico. She speaks fluent English, Spanish and Portuguese.

The woman saw little of her parents, Mark and Carole Nygaard, because they were traveling throughout the world on cult business and recruiting missions. The woman has not seen her father, a native of Akron, for nine years and has not communicated with her mother, a native of the Columbus area, for two years.

"I don't consider them my parents," she said.

Although she attempts to repress her bitterness, the woman still blames her parents for much of her misfortune. As a child, there were no bedtime stories, only beatings, she said. If you'd cry for your parents, they'd come in and beat you. I remember black eyes and bruises all over.

When she turned 9, the beatings were replaced with a demerit system, the woman said. If she accumulated too many demerits, she was forced to read "[[Mo Letters]]," Berg's religious writings, for hours. Berg is known as Moses David to his followers.

The woman attempted unsuccessfully to escape when she was 13 years old and living in Quito, Ecuador. She returned to the cult's commune several days later and was forced to stay in a room for a month reading "Mo Letters" and receiving religious instruction.

"They try to portray Berg as this fatherly, loving guy," she said. But he's not. He's a disgusting man. They use the Bible, but they twist it around. This is definitely not Christianity."

The sect's attempts to indoctrinate the woman instead resulted in her secretly rejecting Berg's teachings. "It just made me more rebellious," she said.

She finally escaped while living in a commune in Lima, Peru. With the help of a friend she met while selling Children of God posters, she walked out of the commune with her passport in hand. She stayed with the friend's family for a month until her grandmother sent for her.

"This whole thing has taught me to be strong," the woman said. "Other kids, when they get into trouble, can fall back on their parents. I couldn't."

Because of the years of abuse, many children who escape from the cult descend into drug and alcohol addiction and become prostitutes and tramps, the woman said. Leaders of Children of God use these children as examples of what happens to those who reject Berg.

"They tell the kids that's God's way of punishing people who leave. I don't want them to be able to say that about me. I want to show them I left and am making something of myself."

Lloyd said the woman wants to attend college and has visited the Columbus College of Art and Design. "After all she's been through, I'm confident she has the strength to do it."