Critics: Scientologists' Virginia trip a time to prey

New York Daily News/April 18, 2007
By George Rush and Joanna Rush Molloy

The Church of Scientology has dispatched "ministers" to provide "grief counseling" for shell-shocked youth at Virginia Tech - but critics suspect the sect hopes to convert the vulnerable students.

"It's shameless, how they milk human tragedy to promote their organization," charges Rick Ross, whose has long tracked the group, which counts Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley among its members. "These young people [at VT] are experiencing trauma. What they need are qualified mental health professionals."'s Mark Ebner brands the Scientologists as "vultures" who are "hindering legitimate, heroic rescue efforts with their spurious 'therapies,'" such as a "touch assist" - a light massage, which, Ebner says, is "supposed to distract them from their tragedy. It's a form of mini-hypnosis."

"They did this at Ground Zero [after 9/11]," says Ross. "They did this in New Orleans [after Hurricane Katrina]. They look for very high-profile disasters that can be milked for photo ops" to promote the Church.

Church official Sylvia Stannard tells us that about 20 "ministers" are in Blacksburg, Va. "We're doing a lot of emotional counseling, which is kind of our speciality," says Stannard. "We prohibit our people from proselytizing," but she adds, "they are going to tell them they are Scientologists" and "they will answer questions."

The church, which preaches against all psychiatric pharmaceuticals, has already seized upon early reports that Cho Seung-Hui, the gunman accused of Monday's bloodbath, may have been taking antidepressents.

Stannard says the killings demonstrate "these mind-altering drugs" make "you numb to other people's suffering. You really have to be drugged up to coldly kill people like that."

Even before Cho's name was released, the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, a group founded by the church, said in a press release that "media and law enforcement must move quickly to investigate the Virginia shooter's psychiatric drug history - a common factor amongst school shooters."

Ebner argues that the commission "claimed psychiatric drugs caused the Columbine High School shooting. But it came out later that the shooters went wild because they were off their meds."

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