New Mexico sect leader begins fast for child's return

The Associated Press/June 6, 2008

Clayton, New Mexico - The leader of an apocalyptic sect accused of sex crimes against underage female followers said Friday he will not eat until state child welfare workers return a teenager who was removed from the sect's compound.

Two teenage girls and a boy were taken from the compound in northeastern New Mexico in late April by the state Children, Youth and Families Department after the allegations were raised against Wayne Bent, 67, who heads The Lord Our Righteousness Church.

Bent, who calls himself Michael Travesser, has been indicted by a grand jury on two counts of criminal sexual contact of a minor and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

He initially had been charged in magistrate court with alleged crimes against three girls who previously lived on the church's compound. The girls had told authorities they "lay naked" with Bent, who claims to be the Messiah.

Bent has denied any molestation occurred, and his followers say the charges are false.

Bent, in a posting Friday on the sect's Web site, wrote that he wants one teen-who he calls Willow-to be released from state custody and returned to her parents. He explained that he has "taken the course of Advertisement fasting and prayer rather than continue to spar with the insane."

While being held in the Colfax County jail last month, Bent had also refused to eat or drink for a couple of days.

Bent wrote in Friday's posting that Willow was stressed and allegedly being mentally abused while in state custody.

"I am now at the place where I must act on behalf of Willow, even if it is to give up my life for her," he wrote. "The state uses me as an excuse to steal a child, and I am not going to give them that excuse. I will not permit them to use me for their own dark agenda."

CYFD spokeswoman Romaine Serna said she could not comment on the case due to a gag order imposed by the judge.

According to an e-mail from Bent's son, Jeff Bent, state District Judge John Paternoster on Friday denied a request for an emergency hearing regarding the teen's custody.

Bent and his followers have lived on a former ranch in a remote part of Colfax County near the New Mexico-Colorado line since 2000. Bent has acknowledged having sex with followers and lying naked with virgins, but he denies any children or adults were molested at the community. He has said the virgins asked for sex and he refused.

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