“Everybody there loved the lifestyle,” said Larsen, a trustee who helped acquire and oversee Shepherd’s Camp.
As the fellowship grew to 150 people, the height of its membership, families spread to simple homes clustered around four areas they knew as Shepherd’s Camp, Maiden’s Love, Three Taverns and Fair Haven. Barnard urged them to work for businesses of fellowship members, butchering meat, building cabinets and making soap.
From God’s word to Barnard’s
It happened so gradually that former leaders barely noticed that Barnard was now calling all the shots.
“It’s like anything else — everything comes a little piece at a time,” said the member of Barnard’s inner circle. “You’re not going to get some blatant, ‘I’m king now.’ … You start first with somebody calling him Apostle, then he ends up teaching about [being] Jesus Christ in the flesh.”
Congregants listened to recordings of Barnard preaching and read books authored by him. After leaving the fellowship, Vail and his younger brother, Isaiah, got rid of much of it. But they kept a few books.
One hardcover, “Considerations of Jesus Christ the Apostle and High Priest,” carries Barnard’s name on its maroon leather binding. In the book’s introduction, Barnard credits Victor Paul Wierwille, the former leader of the Way International as first teaching him the truths of Jesus Christ.
One of the hallmarks of the Way — and, in the beginning, the River Road Fellowship — was the belief that everyone should read and interpret the Bible for themselves, rather than rely on clergy, the inner-circle member said. But gradually, Barnard put his own twist on biblical sayings to convince his followers to do his bidding, he said.
Most congregants lived within a 5-mile radius, but rather than gather in a sanctuary to worship, small groups held their own home services, often listening to CDs of Barnard preaching. He was revered, and groups planned events around his visits.
“If you were Catholic,” Johnson said, “it would be like the pope coming.”
No time for rest
So when, in July 2000, Barnard created a group of 10 girls and young women, ages 12 to 24, who would be sent to live near him on the Shepherd’s Camp, without their families, parents considered it an honor.
Lindsay Tornambe was 13 when her parents dropped her off for what she thought would be summer camp. Instead it became a new life.
Maidens lived in their own quarters and were home schooled. They arranged music for church and hosted the events at Shepherd’s Camp. “All the young girls looked up to us,” Tornambe said.
Within about a month, Tornambe said, Barnard called her to his lodge and asked her about masturbation, she said. She didn’t know what that meant, and when she seemed confused, he grew angry, hitting her. Later that night he raped her, she said.
It happened again and again, Tornambe said, up to five times a month: If she wasn’t acting spiritual it would be less frequent, she said; if she was deep into the faith, he would “reward” her. Tornambe said she remembers being instructed to use a female contraceptive early on with Barnard. That ended, she said, after Barnard went in for surgery. He explained that he could no longer produce children, she remembers.
He met with Tornambe’s parents at one point and told them he may or may not have sex with her, she recalls, even though he had already repeatedly raped her. “He told me it was his way of being able to show me God’s love.”
Tornambe is one of two former maidens whose reports form the basis of the charges against Barnard. The other woman told investigators a similar story, saying that she was 12 when Barnard first raped her. He told her that “sex with him was not wrong because he was a Man of God and she would remain a virgin because of it,” according to the complaint. She kept calendars, marking an “X” every time they had sex. It added up to nearly a decade of alleged abuse.