Minister is charged with sexually abusing girls at Minnesota camp.
FINLAYSON, Minn. - Lindsay Tornambe was just 13 years old when she was chosen to be “sacrificed to God,” she remembers.
That announcement in July 2000 came from a minister who led an insular faith community that included her family in central Minnesota. As Tornambe sat in the congregation with her parents, she remembers the minister calling out a list of 10 girls for a position of honor. He would later call them “maidens.”
Soon, her parents dutifully dropped her off at his isolated camp, where what she now calls a nightmare of sexual abuse went on for about nine years.
Pine County authorities announced Tuesday that the minister, 52-year-old Victor A. Barnard, is now facing 59 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct involving his chosen maidens.
Barnard ruled “like a rock star” over the camp and sexually exploited girls and young women at his whim while they lived apart from their families, according to court papers, which spell out the alleged abuses against two unnamed teens.
Barnard had not been apprehended Tuesday evening but was believed to be in Washington state, where authorities have begun a manhunt for him. He is the subject of a nationwide warrant.
Pine County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Steven Blackwell said Tuesday that the 59 counts address only the alleged rapes of the two women who have so far spoken to law officers and that he is confident Barnard has more victims.
“We are hoping to find more that are willing to come forward,” Blackwell said. “I don’t know how we couldn’t think that” there are more girls and women abused in Barnard’s “secret little world,” he added.
The criminal complaint lays out the experiences of two of the girls, now women and identified in the document as “B” and “C.” Tornambe, who is now living in the Washington, D.C., area, confirmed in a phone interview Tuesday that she is one of the girls described in the charges, which she hasn’t seen.
She said she was relieved to hear that Barnard is facing charges. “To know that they actually care, that people actually do care about what happened means so much,” she said.
The Maidens Group
Tornambe said she first met Barnard when she was 9. Living in Pennsylvania, her parents had been following his ministry and home schooling their children. The family visited Minnesota a lot, she said, and eventually moved to join the congregation near Finlayson when she was 11.
They lived and worked there and had little contact with the outside world, she said.
It became clear sometime after her name was called at the meeting with the congregation that her move to live with Barnard was intended to be permanent. “My parents dropped me off July 23, 2000,” Tornambe said. “Victor had us celebrate it every year, it was like our anniversary.”
Within about a month of the move, she said, Barnard talked to her about sex. He used terms she didn’t understand, and he grew angry about it, thinking she was lying about not understanding. She said he raped her for the first time then and continued sexually assaulting her over the course of nine years. The frequency varied from about once a month to about five times a month, she said.
“If I wasn’t being spiritual or following his orders, he wouldn’t have sex with us,” she said. “If we were doing well, it was almost like he rewarded us.” She rarely saw her parents, though they lived only about 5 miles away, she said.
The complaint says that females ages 12 to 24 were in the Maidens Group and that Barnard would preach to them about giving themselves to God and never marrying. They were sometimes called “Alamoth,” a biblical word referencing virginity, the document says. Barnard taught the girls that he represented Jesus and that he had left his wife and children to live on camp property, telling the larger congregation that the move was so he could dedicate himself to God.
Tornambe said she tried to leave the group once, when she was 15. Barnard took back a ring, a veil and other gifts he had given her before she went home to her parents, she said, and her mother cried for a week with disappointment. When Barnard called clergy members, the maidens and their parents together for a meeting shortly afterward, he talked about damnation from God. Fearful, Tornambe went back with Barnard.