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Cult Targets College Students
Reporter: Rebecca Lopez
Updated: Nov 28, 2000 at 05:23PM

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Garbage Eaters

— On college campuses everywhere, members of a secretive religious cult are targeting some of the brightest young students. Some of those who join, never see their family and friends again.

Stu Herigodt had big dreams for his son, Sean, who was on his way to becoming an artist. But he noticed his son no longer wanted to paint, only read his bible.

"We saw a real change in Sean. He had been anything but religious up to the point," said Herigodt.

Herigodt was shocked to learn his outgoing son had been lured into a secretive religious cult near the University of Texas.

"I put him on the bus supposedly to go back to Austin and we thought we'd see him again in 30 days. We haven't seen him since and that was five years ago," said Herigodt.

The group Sean joined is called "The Brethren." It's a Christian-based, nomadic and secretive cult. Members are required to cut off contact with their families, their only communication is an occasional letter saying they want to be left alone. Members live on the streets. That's why they're often referred to as the "Garbage Eaters."

For years that's where they found their food. They found it in the trash bin in back of supermarkets and fast food restaurants. The group heavily recruits bright, idealistic college students, usually 17 to 21 years old, who are in search of meaning in their lives. Sometimes they're lured into the group within hours.

Forty-eight hours after being approached, the daughter of Hope and Warren Evans disappeared. Two years ago, they finally found Melinda in Virginia. Eighteen years had passed.

"Cold windy nights were very difficult... thinking where are they living now knowing that they lived outside," said Hope Evans.

As the Evans searched, Melinda went deeper into hiding, moved around by leaders of The Brethren.

"We were pegged as evil because we tried so hard to find her and in the group's eyes that made us evil," said Evans.

Jim Robert Many members are afraid to leave. The leader of the group, Jim Roberts, teaches if they leave they will be eternally damned.

The ex-marine and hair dresser is an elusive figure seldom seen in public. Some rare footage was shot by ABC News in California.

"We are always believed to be a cult," Roberts told a reporter. Asked whether he encourages members of his organization to sever ties with their families, he replied, "Sometimes we do that because that is what Christ taught."

Despite the group's teaching, Sean has recently started calling his family. They're not sure where he is, but say they'll never stop looking.

"Do you still have hope that your son will come out of the group? Oh yeah. You always have hope," answered Herigodt.

Parents of these missing children rely on the public's help to find them. So they've posted their pictures on several websites.


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