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Sect members found safe; leader hospitalized

Associated Press / September 20, 2010

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PALMDALE, Calif. — The leader of a breakaway religious sect was hospitalized yesterday for a mental evaluation, after she and 12 other members of her group went missing and left behind evidence that they were awaiting the Rapture or some other catastrophic event.

Reyna Marisol Chicas was placed under a 72-hour mandatory hold after it was determined she was not able to care for herself or others, said a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy.

Chicas gave investigators a false name and was rambling during questioning, the deputy said. She told deputies she had no children, even though her two children were with her.

Ending a frantic search, deputies found the 13 sect members just before noon at a park near Palmdale after getting a tip from a local resident, said Steve Whitmore, sheriff’s spokesman. He said all of the members are safe.

Officers had been searching a wide swath of Southern California since Saturday.

The group of El Salvadoran immigrants described as “cult-like’’ by sheriff’s officials, is led by Chicas, a 32-year-old woman from Palmdale, sheriff’s Captain Mike Parker said.

Members left behind cellphones, identification, deeds to property, and letters indicating they were awaiting the Rapture, an apocalyptic event anticipated by some Christian groups.

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