Authorities in east-central Minnesota are tracking news reports out of Brazil that Victor Barnard, the cult leader accused of sexually assaulting dozens of young girls in his congregation, tried to commit suicide while in custody in Brazil.
Barnard attempted suicide Friday while in his prison cell and was admitted to the intensive care unit of the Regional Hospital in southern Brazil, according to newspaper reports this week out of Mato Grosso do Sul.
Doctors offered no information about Barnard’s condition, the reports added.
“I just saw these reports this morning,” Pine County Attorney Reese Frederickson said Thursday. “I haven’t had any information beyond these reports.”
Frederickson said he was in touch Thursday morning with Sheriff Jeff Nelson about the latest development in Barnard’s case.
One of Barnard’s attorneys, Marsh Halberg, said he received calls Wednesday night about his client and is “still waiting for more information out of Brazil before I comment.”
Barnard has been fighting extradition to the United States since his capture in February. Frederickson said it could be until at least May before he’s brought back to Minnesota to face charges.
Barnard, 54, was arrested in February while on the run in Brazil. He’s awaiting extradition to Pine County to face 59 counts of first- and third-degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly raping young girls he called “maidens” in his congregation. Barnard, through a Brazilian attorney, says he is innocent.
He 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 leveled in 2014, he evaded an international manhunt with the aid of one of his followers — a young woman from a wealthy Brazilian family.
The woman, 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 — females 12 to 24 whom he separated from their families and brought to live near him in the isolated religious community.
Two former maidens approached the Sheriff’s Office in 2012 to report that Barnard began a sexual relationship with them when they were 12 and 13 and that the abuse continued for years.