SPOKANE, Wash. --- A woman from a Philadelphia filed a civil lawsuit asking for damages from former cult leaders based in the Inland Northwest after she was sexually abused by a church leader for a decade.
Lindsay Tornambe realized she was abused at a New Year’s Eve party on Jan 1, 2012 after speaking with her friends about her experiences as a child while a member of the River Road Fellowship.
The leader of the cult, Victor Barnard, originally founded his religion in Minnesota. Tornambe's parents met him when she was just nine, and they uprooted their whole lives to move to join the church.
Tornambe said the sexual abuse began when she was 13. She was chosen, along with other girls who were a part of the religion, to be a "maiden." The group of girls lived together for years in the compound, serving their leader, Victor Barnard.
“Whenever he talked about having sex with me, he always said that it was a way to show me how much God loved me,” she said of the abuse.
Barnard told her even though she was having sex with him, she could still “spiritually remain a virgin.”
Eventually in 2010, Bernard moved the group to Spokane as he fled charges in Minnesota. After he went to Brazil to avoid authorities that spring, Tornambe said she decided to leave the group.
“It had come out that Victor had also been sleeping with some of the married women,” Tornambe said. “For some reason, even though I didn’t realize what he had done to me was wrong, I knew that that was wrong.”
Tornambe said at the age of 23, she packed her things and announced she was leaving to the other maidens.
“Of course, you know, they said ‘Well, you must not love God anymore, and you’re not remembering your first love,’ which was Victor,” Tornambe said.
She took the train anyway, riding across the country from Spokane to Philadelphia, and tried to start over.
“I also wanted to move on with my life, you know, get married, have children, start a family,” she explained.
Tornambe’s lawsuit names the adults in the cult who she said should have known that what was happening to her as a child was wrong.
The lawsuit specifically names 12 people, besides Barnard, and includes five adults who are still listed as residents in the Inland Northwest.
Susan Elmblad of Spokane, Craig Elmblad of Spokane, Randal Roark of Cheney, Pamela Roark of Cheney and Stephanie Barnard of Liberty Lake are all named in the lawsuit.
Each defendant faces allegations of negligence, failure to protect and joint and several liability.
Tornambe’s legal team hopes to bring the civil suit to trial in Minnesota. Her legal team said the main question of the case would be the “delayed discovery” of her realization that she had been abused.
“When would a reasonable person discover they were sexually abused?” explained Lee James, a Coeur d’Alene lawyer representing Tornabe. “In her case, it’s an added layer of brainwashing [from the cult.]”
Barnard was sentenced to 30 years behind bars last year in Minnesota following the criminal case. At the time, he told the court he is asking God to heal him.
"God is good, his word is faithful ... and I have not walked in his goodness," Barnard said, after his sentencing.
Barnard had been charged in 2014 with 59 counts of criminal sexual conduct for allegedly having sexual relationships with two girls he had inducted into his "Maidens Group" at the secluded compound in rural Minnesota.
Tornambe said she was not sure the cult was still functioning in Spokane, but still felt responsible for protecting future children from her fate.
“I didn’t go into this for the money,” she explained. “I think people should be held accountable.”
Tornambe passed out copies of her lawsuit to Spokane residents on Wednesday, she said to raise awareness of the case.