Family believes cult lured daughter
Father says daughter joined The Brethren, then disappeared
Sam Hunsaker says his 20-year-old daughter, Lahla, has disappeared.
He thinks she joined a cult called The Brethren.
“Two or three weeks ago, she went to Centennial Park for a walk and to have a little picnic,” said Hunsaker, who lives in west Lawrence. “While she was there, she met a man who was there reading the Bible.”
The meeting, Hunsaker said, led to an invitation for his daughter, a former Lawrence High School student, to join a Bible study group at Kansas University.
Hunsaker didn’t object to his daughter joining the group but became suspicious when he learned it consisted of three or four men, all of whom wore tuniclike jackets and had short hair and long, scraggly beards.
His daughter told him she was the only woman in the group. She called the group The Brethren.
“I asked if I could go and she said no,” Hunsaker said.
Hunsaker said he last talked to his daughter Saturday.
“I was at Perkins (restaurant),” he said. “She wanted to know the words to ‘I’ll Fly Away,’ which is a song I sing a lot at church. That was the last I heard from her.”
She was ‘ecstatic’
Around noon Sunday, Lahla Hunsaker showed up at her best friend’s mother’s house.
“She had a couple boxes of personal belongings she wanted to leave here so her parents could come pick them up later,” said Pamela Krommendyk.
“I had a gut feeling that something was wrong because this weird-looking dude had backed his car into the driveway. Instead of helping her, he just sat there,” she said. “I got the impression he didn’t want anybody to see him.”
Krommendyk said she asked Lahla Hunsaker if anything was wrong.
“She was just ecstatic,” Krommendyk said. “I asked her if she was in love – because that’s how she was acting – and she said ‘Oh, yes, I am in love with Jesus. I’m in love with God.’
“I asked her about the man in the car, and she said ‘Oh, he’s just my ride,’ and then she got kind of evasive.”
Hunsaker said his daughter left her 10-month-old son with her fiance, who lives in Topeka.
“It’s amazing to me that a group that claims to be religious would tell a mother to leave her child,” he said.
Known for secrecy
According to several Web sites that monitor cults, The Brethren is a secretive, nomadic group formed by Jim Roberts, an ex-Marine, in the early 1970s. It’s also known as The Roberts Group and The Garbage Eaters.
Members abstain from alcohol and drugs, avoid banks and prefer bicycles over cars. They are expected to give away their worldly possessions. Their lifestyles border on homelessness.
Donnell Turner, a longtime advocate for Lawrence’s homeless, said a few men with long beards and tunics were outside Lawrence Community Shelter, 214 W. 10th St., late last month.
“It’s been a week and a half since I’ve seen them,” Turner said. “I knew by the way they dressed they were different.”
At the Ecumenical Christian Ministries, campus minister Thad Holcombe said he hadn’t heard that The Brethren members were in Lawrence.
“They were here four or five years ago,” Holcombe said. “I remember they came to our Welcome Back Barbecue for (KU) students, but they sort of stayed on the periphery. After that, they faded pretty quickly. I didn’t hear reports of cultish activity.”
Holcombe said he would alert the university’s religious advisers to The Brethren’s apparent return.
KU religion professor Tim Miller, who studies cults, said The Brethren is known for its secrecy.
“They are very hard to penetrate,” he said. “There’s not much known about them.”
KU spokeswoman Mary Jane Dunlap said the university was unaware of the group holding formal or informal meetings on campus.
Sam Hunsaker filed a missing-person report Monday with Lawrence Police.
“There is no indication of foul play. It appears she was operating on her own free will,” police spokesman Sgt. Dan Ward said. “But we have entered her into the (national) computer as a ‘missing person/check welfare,’ which means if she’s ever stopped, the officer will check on her and see if she’s OK.”
Added Hunsaker: “That’s all they can do. She’s an adult.”