Cult Leader Fast Reaches 6th Day

KOAT 7 News, Albuquerque/June 13, 2008

It's been weeks since the state charged Wayne Bent with the sexual abuse of underage followers - and six days of no food for the leader of the Lord Our Righteousness Church.

As the charges have progressed through the court system, the case of one girl - "Willow" -has been dropped.

Wayne Bent and followers - including his son, Jeff - want Willow back. Wayne Bent, known to his followers as Michael Travesser, said he won't eat unless Willow is returned.

According to Jeff, 39 followers have joined Wayne in the fast, and they expect it to end soon.

Church members said the fast is a petition to God, not a demand of the state.

"This is an act of protest, but directed to the God of heaven," Jeff Bent told Action 7 News. "The people here are outraged at the actions of the state towards our children. We feel we desperately need God to intervene and deliver Willow from CYFD."

"I don't foresee that there will be 40 skeletons out here in the desert because God did not answer our prayer," said Bent. "God answers prayers."

Bent believes the appeal is working.

"I don't think that they're concerned about the fast," said Bent. "But I have noticed - at least in the past few days - it seems that the dialogue between Willow's parents and the state has become much more intense. So I believe that God is inspiring them to re-examine this whole thing and to rethink it."

Several members of the Strong City church have said repeated problems with the Department of Children Youth and Families have forced a change in the CYFD workers handling the case.

State officials said a judge's gag order in Willow's case prevents them from saying anything specific, adding that changes in the people working a case are generally common.

Bent said he believes the 160-mile round trip required by the CYFD worker in Willow's case is not routine.

Bent also said that charges in Willow's case have not been re-filed in district court.

"There's been nothing else heard about it because there is no case," he said. "And the kids know that and we know that and the state is beginning to know that."

The criminal case of Wayne Bent has slowed. Both district court judges who handle Union County have been excused, meaning the New Mexico Supreme Court will appoint a judge to travel to Union County for hearings.

Because the charges filed in Magistrate Court have been dropped in favor of the District Court's grand jury charges, the $55,000 the church paid for Wayne Bent's bond has been returned.

In the meantime - and apparently until Willow returns - Wayne Bent and 39 of his followers continue to fast.

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