Bent follower talks about death wish

KOB News, New Mexico/February 1, 2009

The whereabouts of a New Mexico cult member who starved herself for almost a month are unknown Sunday. But before the woman dropped out of sight, and before deputies removed her from her cult compound, she talked to Eyewitness News 4.

The compound, known as Strong City, is 311 miles from Albuquerque - the last 30 on dirt road. It is here in a trailer home that we found a pale and weak looking woman with a heating pad on her lap, sitting still in a chair. She is 25 years old.

"The last time I ate was the morning of December 30th," said Esther.

That was the day Wayne Bent, known as "Michael" to his cult, was sent to prison for ten years for touching a teenage follower's breast as she lay naked with him.

He claims it was a healing ceremony.

"I swear by God that he is in jail over a lie, and I won't support that," said Esther. "I'm willing to die on what I stand on, which is purely God's instructions to me. I wouldn't be doing this if God hadn't told me to, but I'm willing to die doing what God told me to do, and in essence, yes, it would be for Wayne Bent."

Esther wrote out a signed statement refusing medical care, saying "I don't want to be resuscitated unless Wayne Bent is released."

"I'll stand like a rock," she said. "I'm not giving in."

"I love Michael [Bent] with all my heart, and he means more to me than the world will ever know, and he's just precious to me, and I'm not going to live with his suffering."

"I want people to just leave me alone," she said. "Let me do what my religious beliefs are."

Jeff Bent, Wayne Bent's son, also signed Esther's statement as a witness.

"It's not my heart's desire for Esther to fast on the level she is and taking it to this length," said Jeff Bent. "But that's her conviction, and she's really acting out how we all feel about this injustice, and we're going to fight it."

But the written statement didn't work. Ten hours after Eyewitness News 4's Jeremy Jojola sat down with her, Union County deputies handed Esther a judge's order demanding she get into an ambulance to receive medical attention. The video was posted online by cult members.

Esther's older sister, who is no longer part of the cult, got the order to keep Esther from harming herself. Elsa Sayer is also a former member of the Strong City Cult. She has no problem with deputies hauling Esther off to the hospital

"It's just killing herself, for no reason I see," said Sayer.

It was Sayer's two daughters who climbed into Wayne Bent's bed naked, leading to the charges against him. Sayer hopes now that Bent is gone, his followers will see the light.

"I am glad that he's locked up in a way, because it gives everybody out there a chance to be away from his influence. It gives them a chance to think for themselves, so might see the real truth and stuff," said Sayer.

There are 45 people remaining in the Strong City compound, according to Jeff Bent. No one has moved away since his father was sent to prison.

As for Esther's health, medical research shows someone can suffer permanent organ damage after 30 days of starvation.

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