From Wabasha to Warroad, from Sleepy Eye to Silver Bay, Dateline Minnesota scours the state to bring you breaking news from outside the Twin Cities.

Ice caves reopening Thursday

Posted by: Pam Louwagie Updated: March 4, 2015 - 5:20 PM

Visitors will get at least one more chance this year to see the Apostle Islands mainland ice caves near Cornucopia, Wis.

The caves, which closed temporarily this week due to a winter storm, will reopen Thursday morning, officials said. They are expected to stay open through the weekend, when temperatures are forecast to climb.

Though ice on the trail to the caves atop frozen Lake Superior is still about 16 inches thick, officials are suggesting visitors don't delay trekking to see the natural phenomenon. 

"It's that time of year when days are getting longer and the temps are increasing," said Julie Van Stappen, chief of planning and resource management for the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. "It's anyone's guess how long they'll be open, but we're pretty confident it'll be through this weekend."

Fresh snow covers most of the bare ice, but park officials cautioned on their Facebook page that there are still slippery and slushy areas. They continue to recommend sturdy, waterproof boots with ice cleats and warned that wind chills on Thursday morning are expected to reach -30 degrees.

For updates on ice conditions, visit the park’s Facebook page or call the 24-hour "ice line" at 715-779-3397 ext. 3.

Tag your photos with #STcaves on Twitter or Instagram and see other readers’ photos at

Extraditing Victor Barnard from Brazil could take years

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks Updated: March 4, 2015 - 6:06 PM

Fugitive cult leader Victor Barnard is behind bars in Brazil, but getting him behind bars in Minnesota could take years.

Frustrated Pine County officials are waiting to hear whether Barnard is going to fight the extradition order that would bring him back to face 59 counts of sexual assault against young girls in his congregation. Barnard, 53, spent three years on the run in Brazil before his arrest Friday in the coastal resort town of Pipa.

"At the very earliest, one month. At the very latest, we're talking three years," said newly elected Pine County Attorney Reese Frederickson. "We don't know. If he waives extradition, it will be one month. If he wants to fight it, it's a one- to three-year process, depending on his life circumstances."

Barnard left Pine County in 2010 bankrupt and under a cloud of suspicion for his behavior during his years at the head of the River Road Fellowship in Finlayson. After charges were filed a year ago, he was able to evade an international manhunt with the aid of one of his followers -- a young woman from a wealthy Brazilian family.

The woman, identified by Brazilian media as 33-year-old Cristina Liberato, had been a member of the fellowship since she was in her teens. Former fellowship members identified her as one of Barnard's "maidens," young women between the ages of 12 and 24 he separated from their families and brought to live near him in the isolated religious community.

Two former maidens approached the Pine County Sheriff's Office in 2012 to report that Barnard began a sexual relationship with them when they were 12 and 13 years old, and that the abuse continued for years.

The lead Brazilian investigator in the case told the Associated Press that Liberato took Barnard "under her wing" when he arrived in Brazil in March 2012. The two reportedly traveled together to Uruguay and lived in several different locations in the state of Rio Grande do Norte before settling in the coastal resort town of Pipa.

"She fully supported him at her cost," Kandy Takahashi, chief of federal police in Rio Grande do Norte, told the Associated Press. "She was hiding him."

Brazilian police arrested Barnard and Liberato on Friday. Liberato was released, but faces charges of assisting a fugitive.

"She was his favorite maiden. That's what I've always heard," said Frederickson, who inherited the Barnard prosecution when he took office two months ago. "She has a wealthy family and her family has a number of properties in Brazil and [Barnard] was shuttled among these properties. One of them, I believe, was a compound."

The uncertain timeline is making it hard for Pine County officials to plan a legal strategy for what will probably be a complicated and costly case.

"It's difficult for us. We need to know if we need to get this thing rolling now or if we can hold off and take our time with putting the case together," Frederickson said. "It really starts when we know for sure that this guy's coming in."

Barnard stands accused of using his charismatic hold over his followers to sexually exploit girls and young women at his whim. His accusers say he twisted biblical passages to convince them that a sexual relationship with their pastor was just as much God's will as it was for King Solomon to have concubines.

Pine County court documents mention a young Brazilian woman who came to the United States to study and ended up entangled with the Fellowship. She returned to Brazil in 2009 when her visa expired. Former Fellowship members say that woman is Liberato.

Takahashi told the Associated Press that Liberato, who works in real estate, paid all of Barnard's expenses.

Brazilian authorities began searching for Barnard in September, after receiving an extradition and arrest warrant from the United States. In November, the U.S. Marshals Service placed Barnard on its most wanted list.

Now the hunt for one of the nation's most wanted fugitives is over and the waiting has begun.

"We excited that he was arrested. Now we feel like we're part of a holding pattern," Frederickson said. "Every day I go, I bug the sheriff, every few hours, actually, I go down there and ask, 'Have you heard anything?' And he says, 'No, I haven't heard anything either.'"

Ice caves to close temporarily on Tuesday evening

Posted by: Pam Louwagie Updated: March 2, 2015 - 4:46 PM

This year’s first window of adequate conditions to get a look at the Apostle Islands ice caves will be short-lived.

Officials plan to close access to the caves at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, at least temporarily, thanks to a weather forecast including strong winds.

Visitors must walk atop frozen Lake Superior to see the icicle-draped caves, and high winds can sometimes break up the lake surface ice quickly.

“We’ve got the big winter storm coming and gale force winds,” said Julie Van Stappen, chief of planning and resource management for the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. “If conditions permit, we will reopen no earlier than sometime on Thursday.”

The caves opened to visitors on Saturday, after promising-looking conditions earlier this year were twice thwarted by winds breaking up ice.

Over the weekend, almost 12,000 visitors trekked on a treacherous path to the caves that included glassy smooth ice in some spots and piles of broken ice plates in others. Van Stappen said the weekend went smoothly with only minor incidents of cold and injuries reported.

Last winter, an unprecedented 138,000 visitors flocked to the caves near Cornucopia, Wis. over the course of about 10 weeks. The caves were accessible for the first time in five years, and word of their beauty went viral on social media.

Before making a trip to the caves, visitors should check the park’s Facebook page ( or call the park’s ice line at 715-779-3397, ext. 3.

Cult leader Barnard was with long-time follower when caught in Brazil

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks Updated: March 2, 2015 - 5:34 PM

A Minnesota cult leader accused of raping girls and young women was found hiding out in Brazil with a woman who had been a member of his congregation since she was in her teens.

Victor Arden Barnard, one of the most wanted fugitives in the country, was arrested this weekend, along with a woman the local media identified as 33-year-old Maria Cristina Cajazeiras Liberato, a Brazilian-born member of his River Road Fellowship.

U.S. and Brazilian law enforcement agencies are working to return Barnard to Minnesota, where he faces 59 counts of sexual assault on young women and girls in the secretive religious community he founded in Pine County.

Barnard was arrested Friday in the beach resort community of Pipa. According to reports, Liberato had spent months or years shuttling Barnard around various properties in the northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte.

In a statement Monday, the marshals service confirmed that “self-proclaimed pastor and accused sexual predator Victor Arden Barnard was arrested Friday,” just months after he was placed on the agency’s Most Wanted list.

The manhunt, the marshals reported, gained traction after agents were tipped off that Barnard “was either in Brazil or receiving assistance from his followers there.” It was a search that began with the Pine County Sheriff’s Office and stretched to include the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. State Department, the marshals service and Interpol.

Barnard remains in custody, awaiting extradition. Liberato, according to news reports, was released, but faces charges of aiding a fugitive. Brazilian federal police, who believe Barnard may have been in the country since 2012, confiscated religious papers, diaries, computers, flash drives and cell phones from the condo where Barnard had been staying.

Barnard founded the River Road Fellowship community near Finlayson in the 1990s. There, he used his charismatic hold over his followers to sexually exploit girls and young women at his whim, according to court papers.

In 2012, two young women stepped forward to tell Pine County Sheriff's investigators that Barnard raped them after they were chosen, at ages 12 and 13, to be separated from their families and live near him as part of a cloistered group he called his “maidens.” The abuse continued for years.

After a two-year investigation, the Pine County Attorney's Office brought charges against Barnard in the spring of 2014. But Barnard, facing bankruptcy and law enforcement scrutiny, had moved his family and his remaining followers to Washington state years before.

He became the target of an interstate, and then international manhunt. In November, the U.S. Marshal Service place him on its 15 Most Wanted list.

About 1,000 express interest in medical marijuana program

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks Updated: February 23, 2015 - 1:26 PM
"Yes" and "maybe" responses to the Health Department's medical cannabis survey.

"Yes" and "maybe" responses to the Health Department's medical cannabis survey.

New survey results are giving Minnesota a glimpse of the patients waiting to enroll in the state's new medical marijuana program this summer.

The Health Department launched the online survey earlier this month, trying to figure out who the potential patients might be and what conditions they were hoping to treat with the drug, once it becomes legal on July 1. The state was also trying to figure out how many patients live near one of the eight designated medical cannabis clinic locations.

In all, 1,361 patients responded to the survey. Seventy percent said they were likely to register; 24 percent said they might register, depending on costs and whether their program covered their condition; and 7 percent said they would not.

More than half of the patients who responded said they have multiple sclerosis or other conditions that cause severe muscle spasms. Epilepsy and cancer were the next most common conditions among the patients who responded, followed by glaucoma, Crohn's disease and terminal illnesses.

The average age of prospective cannabis users was 42. Almost 10 percent were children 18 years old or younger, while just under 9 percent were ages 65 or older. Half of respondents said they were on public assistance programs like Medicaid or Social Security disability, which would allow them to enroll in the program for $50, rather than the standard $200 fee.

The results are nonscientific, the Health Department noted in its press release. But the responses, which came in from 92 percent of the state's counties, do offer program planners the first sense of who the patients might be, and where they might live.

Respondents identified themselves by zip code, and the area with the most responses was in Brainerd, where 24 people responded in zip code 56401 -- more than either of the highest-responding areas in Minneapolis (55406) or St. Paul (55112), with 22 and 19 responses, respectively. Zip codes in Austin, Mankato and Moorhead came next with 17 responses each.

The eight medical cannabis dispensing sites the law currently allows are planned for Eagan, Hibbing, Maple Grove, Minneapolis, Moorhead, Rochester, St. Cloud and St. Paul. By law, marijuana will only be sold to patients with certain conditions, and only in the form of pills or liquids, not the raw plant form of the drug.


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