Gromers using deprogrammer with boys

The Daily Journal/August 14, 1989
By Ed Bierschenk

Kankakee, Ill. -- Deprogrammer Rick Ross sees a number of similarities between the religious group that broke of numerous Kankakee families 10 years ago and the cult led by Jim Jones, which committed mass suicide in 1979.

Ross has been at the Bourbonnais home of Gerald and Sue Gromer the past week working with Gromer's two sons from his previous marriage.

Luke, 14, and Mark, 12, were taken by Gromer;s former wife, Loretta, after she became involved with a religious group known as His Community.

Gromer spent nearly a decade trying to find his two children. He had custody of them at the time his wife left Illinois with the group. They were found in early June, living with their mother and stepfather, Terry Frey, in Vermont.

The leader of His Community, David Mulligan, now serves as head of what is called Christ Covenant Ministries, located near where the Freys were living in Woodbury. In facy, the home is believed to have been purchased by the financial arm of that religious organization.

Mrs. Frey is currently facing extradition on a kankakee County charge of child abduction.

The Gromers located Ross after calling an organization known as Cult Awareness Network, headquartered in Chicago.

[Note: WARNING! The Cult Awareness Network (CAN) was recently bankrupted and bought up by Scientology. We strongly recommend you do not contact them for assistance.]

According to Ross, that organization is a clearinghouse of information regarding destructive groups and cults and has about 35 to 40 affiliates throughout the United States.

Ross began working with the boys Monday afternoon and by Thursday night he felt satisfied about the progress they had made.

"I think the boys have been laughing and acting more like normal, healthy young boys," said Ross.

Mrs. Gromer said she has noticed a big difference in the boys since their sessions with Ross.

"They were here and they would go out and ride their bikes and stuff, but they weren't happy," she said of the boys' behavior prior to Ross' appearance. "They were scared. They weren't sure about us at all."

"The past couple of days, we've seen such a turnaround in them," said Mrs. Gromer. "They don't mind talking with us now. They don't mind laughing with us. They sit and watch TV shows with Jerry now."

When he first arrived, Ross said the boys were apprehensive and anxious and it took a while to build a rapport with them in order to build meaningful communication.

"After all," said Ross, "for 10 years they were raised in a cult and for them that was normal life.

"They had no exposure to the information about the group that other people knew on the outside. They were forbidden to talk to their father , or have any contact with ex-members, or families of members who objected to the group and were told all these people were evil and were afraid to speak to them," he said.

Ross said the boys did not ask to leave during the sessions, which involved discussions about the group and other religious cults.

According to Ross, none of the sessions lasted more than six hours and numerous breaks were taken for pizza, cookies and bike rides.

"They've gotten plenty of sleep and rest," said Ross.

Ross describes the deprogramming as an educational process and dialogue.

The boys were shown videos documenting many other cult groups throughout the United States in which they have heard testimony from former members of such groups.

Ross said the boys were also exposed to material regarding mind control techniques and met with ex-members of His Community. An assistant who traveled with Ross is also an ex-member of what he calls a destructive group.

The process, said Ross, is a debriefing in which the boys could explore the issues of the group and its leader and "how it really is not unique."

The group, he said, for all its claims of spiritual elitism and uniqueness is very similar and correlates to "many, many other cults."

"Really my job is to sit down with people who are involved in the group and talk to them about the issues concerning and revolving around the group," said Ross, "and that was essentially to separate David Mulligan and the group and what they do from God, Jesus, and the Bible and so forth.

"In other words, though Mulligan would like to cast this in religious terms and hide behind the facade of Jesus, Christianity and holiness, the real issue is not faith, or the Bible. The real issue is David Mulligan and the way he runs his group."

Ross said most people who know him consider him conservative in using the word "cult" and he said he prefers to call many groups simply destructive groups.

One reason why he believes Christ Covenant Ministries is a cult, said Ross, is the "particular practice of this group regarding complete breakdown of communication with the outside world, especially people on the so-called black list, which includes many parents and family members living here in Illinois."

The main reason for calling it a cult, however, is "the obsessive, intensive focus by the members of this group upon the individual David Mulligan as their total leader," said Ross.

"What we're talking about is a group that is extremely totalistic and virtually a spiritual dictatorship in which David Mulligan makes decisions that cover the day-to-day lives of all the members and their families," said Ross.

This allegiance is similar to that given to Jim Jones by former members of the People's Temple or by the Unification Church to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

Ross notes there have been a numerous of names changes and marriages within the group. Mark and Luke are believed to have undergone four name changes since they were taken from their father on Dec. 16, 1979.

Changing the names of people within the group to kill off their previous identity is a symptom of cult groups, said Ross, and has been done extensively in the Mulligan-led organization.

Ross said the way the group has interacted with the world around them is "extremely cultlike."

When the group went to Kentucky, he said, they left the Illinois area with stories of being persecuted, that God was against them, that they, were going to the promised land and how Kankakee would crumble.

"All of these things fit the pattern of a cult mentality, a cult leaders jargon and mode of language," said Ross.

The structure of the group and its talk of going to a promised land in Kentucky, he said, "All fits very closely to the same history of Jim Jones and Jonestown."

Mulligan went even a step further than Jones, said Ross, in talking in Kentucky about how the end of the world was coming - that members needed to isolate themselves and "prepare for the end of time."

The boys, however, have said there was not that emphasis on the end of times in Vermont, according to Ross.

But the group, he said, reacted in a "totally cultlike manner" when other people from Kankakee recently went to Vermont to try to see their family members. He said group members displayed an "enormous amount of fear and stress" and were not allowed to talk to their relatives.

Ross said his fear is that as the outside world closes in and the media reports about various things going on at Christ Covenant Ministries - that the group and its leader will develop a "paranoid seige mentality" and draw in tighter.

"This type of paranoid seige mentality can become dangerous," said Ross. "keep in mind that all of the members of any cult group, such as this one, depend on direction from their leader.

"They think through the mind of their leader and when the leader is disturbed…and they are dependent on his Headship to do their thinking for them, then this can become very dangerous," said Ross.

Despite Mark and Luke having lived in the cult environment for 10 years, Ross believes they have an excellent chance of a successful return to a more normal lifestyle. He believes however, that further counseling will be necessary.

The counseling with a psychiatrist and Ross' bill, which was more than $2,000, have pput a strain on the Gromers' budget.

Fundraisers have been held in an effort to help the family and Gromer, despite some reservations, sold his story to the National Enquirer for an undisclosed fee. Gromer is also having to pay legal fees to retain custody rights to his children.

Ross believes that for the boys welfare, they should not be returned to the custody of their mother, Loretta Frey - unless she disassociates herself completely with Muligan.

"There is no indication that she has any intention to do that," said Ross. He believes the best that could happen regarding her status is to allow supervised visitation in the living room of the Gromer home.

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