Akron Beacon Journal
Police: Witnesses describe child sex abuse, blood rituals at church
May 25, 2005
PONCHATOULA, La. - Witnesses told police that people dressed in black clothing stood inside pentagrams and performed blood rituals involving the sexual abuse of children and animals at a now-closed church.
A woman whose phone call to police started the investigation was arrested last week in suburban Columbus, Ohio, on a charge that she raped her daughter. Authorities left with Nicole Bernard from Columbus on Wednesday for Louisiana after she gave up her right to a hearing on whether she should be extradited.
Police searched a storage unit in Columbus after Bernard told them it contained evidence. Officers took mattresses, videos and nine garbage bags full of costumes from the storage facility, according to a search warrant.
A message seeking comment was left for Bernard's attorney in Columbus, Bob Bernard.
Eight other people, including the church's pastor and an ex-sheriff's deputy, have been arrested in connection with the Hosanna Church in Ponchatoula, a once-bustling house of worship that was reduced to a handful of members in recent years before closing in 2003. A dozen or more additional people could be involved, authorities said.
Police, sheriff's deputies and the FBI have been interviewing possible victims, who range in age from infants to teenagers, authorities said.
"The sheriff said there were cult-like activities involved," Tangipahoa Parish sheriff's spokeswoman Laura Covington said. "Some witnesses said the blood rituals took place inside pentagrams."
Alleged victims have said the suspects wore black clothing while the rituals took place. Covington said it's unclear if the group was engaged in devil worship. Witnesses said the rituals involved the blood of cats, and dogs and cats were used for sexual purposes.
Bernard, who was charged with aggravated rape, told authorities she previously lived in Columbus. Authorities said Bernard abused her daughter when the girl was an infant. The 5-year-old is now in foster care.
Bernard's ex-husband, Austin Aaron Bernard, was arrested May 17 on a charge accusing him of making a girl under the age of 13 perform a sex act. Rape of a child under 13 is a capital offense in Louisiana.
The investigation opened five weeks ago when Nicole Bernard called from Ohio, saying she had fled from Louisiana out of fear for her child, authorities said. On May 16, pastor Louis Lamonica walked into the Livingston Parish sheriff's office and authorities said he started talking about his involvement and giving the names of others. The defunct church is located east of Baton Rouge and north of New Orleans.
Lamonica, 45, was arrested on two counts of aggravated rape and one count of crime against nature. His wife, Robbin, was charged with aggravated rape.
On Tuesday, crime scene experts from the FBI, along with police and sheriff's officers, dug behind the church with a backhoe.
"They're treating it as a crime scene and they're looking for evidence," Covington said. "There aren't any tips and they don't think there's anything down there, but they're just making sure."