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Missing Calif. Sect Members Found Safe

A Los Angeles County Sheriffs officers sits outside a home, in Palmdale, Calif., where members of a "cult-like" group were reportedly last seen, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2010.
AP Photo/Gus Ruelas
Last Updated 3:03 p.m. ET

Authorities say the missing members of a breakaway religious sect have been found praying at a Los Angeles County park.

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore says the 13 adults and children were spotted late Sunday morning at Jackie Robinson Park in Palmdale.

He says all members are apparently safe.

The group from the Palmdale area went missing Saturday and left behind evidence that they were awaiting the rapture or some catastrophic event.

The group of El Salvadoran immigrants, described as "cult-like" by sheriff's officials, was led by Reyna Marisol Chicas, a 32-year-old woman from Palmdale in northeast Los Angeles county, sheriff's Captain Mike Parker said.

The group had left behind cell phones, identifications, deeds to property, and letters indicating they were awaiting the Rapture.

"Essentially, the letters say they are all going to heaven to meet Jesus and their deceased relatives," sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said. "Some of the letters were saying goodbye."

The items came from a purse that a member of the group had left with her husband Saturday and asked him to pray over. He eventually looked inside and he and another member's husband called authorities, Parker said.

The men told investigators they believed group members had been "brainwashed" by Chicas, and one expressed worries that they might harm themselves, Parker said.

About six months ago, the group had planned to head to Vasquez Rocks, a wilderness area near Palmdale, to await a catastrophic earthquake or similar event, but one member of the group revealed details of the trip to relatives, Parker said. The trip was called off and the member kicked out.

The group had broken off from a mainstream Christian church in Palmdale.

Parker did not know what church they had belonged to previously, and it does not appear that they had given their sect a name.

"We've got a group here that's practicing some orthodox and some unorthodox Christianity," Parker said. "Obviously this falls under the unorthodox."