Nationwide manhunt for religious leader

PINE COUNTY, MN (WCCO) – Authorities have charged 52 year old Victor Bernard with 59 counts of criminal sexual conduct.

“I had no idea anything like that was taking place, none at all,” said Dale Reed, church camp neighbor.

Along a dead-end road west of Finlayson, Victor Bernard built a religious camp he called, River Road Fellowship.

Neighbor Dale Reed says the group was self-sufficient, butchering their own meat, growing food and kept largely to themselves. “They did stay by themselves they didn’t mingle with rest of the township or the rest of people in the territory.”

However, according to investigators, Bernard told the cult members he represented Christ. Convincing them to give up their teenage daughters, where they lived separately with Bernard at what he called Shepherd’s Camp.

Pine County Chief Deputy Steven Blackwell said, “He was able to use spiritual coercion, spiritual intimidation, and creating a very large dependence on him, as the adult of the group and he took advantage of that.”

The girls saw their parents only occasionally. According to investigators, Bernard began having sex with girls as young as 13, telling them he represented god’s flesh, it was o.k. and not to tell anyone.

“These 59 counts are all individual acts against these two victims and we’re hoping other victims will come forward, more acts to charge,” said Blackwell.

“As far as I knew they lived as families and had no idea anything else was taking place,” said Reed.

After 12 years of abuse, one of the girls told her story to investigators.

Victor Bernard fled the camp, some of his religious followers, and police in pursuit.

Investigators believe Bernard is hiding somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. He’s last known to have been in Washington State, where a fugitive task force, that includes the Department of Homeland Security, is on the hunt.

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