Sect rebuts claims in murder

Arizona Daily Star/January 13, 2005
By Becky Pallack

A religious sect is disputing claims made by friends about events that led up to a weekend murder-suicide.

Angela M. Smith, 51, who was found stabbed to death Sunday, was never a nanny for the man police say killed her, but she had recently visited him, said Claire Borowik, a spokeswoman for The Family International.

Police said Richard P. Rodriguez, 29, fatally stabbed Smith in a Tucson apartment hours before shooting himself in Blythe, Calif.

Recent media reports portrayed Smith as a criminal rather than a victim, said Borowik, who knew Smith well but did not know Rodriguez.

"Both these deaths are cause of great mourning and grief to the members of our fellowship and the families involved," Borowik said.

Earlier this week, friends and former members of the sect said Rodriguez's anger toward Smith and his mother, who is the leader of The Family, was a motivation to kill Smith and himself. They contended he had been sexually abused by Smith since he was a toddler in the sect's "free love" culture.

Rodriguez was "an obviously disturbed young man," Borowik said, but added that The Family gave him "ample financial and emotional support" to help him with the difficult transition from the group to independence after Rodriguez left The Family in 2000 to pursue his education.

He developed "violent tendencies" after contacting other former Family members and became estranged from his mother, Borowik said. But friends said the former members had served as a support group for Rodriguez to move on from his past.

Regarding claims made by his friends about the abuse, Borowik said The Family has made efforts to reconcile with former group members for 10 years. In the sect's publications, group leaders issued apologies and officially addressed concerns about discipline, education and sexual misconduct, she said.

Leaders of The Family, formerly called The Children of God, also wrote guidelines that mean excommunication from the group for any adult who has "inappropriate contact" with a minor under age 21, Borowik said.

The guidelines were enacted in 1986. Rodriguez would have been about 11 years old at the time.

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