The Loving Children of an Ungodly Father: Consequences
The Davidito book does relate David's early witnessing of sexual behavior and encouragement to explore his own sexuality, and while these experiences would be characterized as sexually abusive or neglectful by most child abuse experts, there is no report of his having been actively molested or abused by adults. Moreover, there is no evidence of long-term negative effects on David. The first author, a clinical child psychologist with thirty years of experience, recently administered a psychological evaluation to David, who is now nineteen, and found him to be a bright, well-adjusted, and emotionally strong young man.
--Sex, Slander and Salvation contributor Lawrence Lilliston, testifying to Lord Justice Alan Ward about the effects of pedophilia on Ricky Rodriguez as documented in The Story of Davidito.
Figure 1. The “Ricky Rodriguez” Video
Ricky Rodriguez made this tape sometime in early January, 2005. During the course of it, you can see him pulling out a mini arsenal of weapons, as if he’s about to fight his own personal war.
And that’s exactly what he’s about to do. Like any other soldier, he’s a man on a mission: to kill his mother, FoL leader Karen Zerby, and her consort, Steven Kelly.
Rodriguez was but one of hundreds of second-generation Children of God/Family of Love members who left the cult once they became adults. While one might have the wherewithal to leave physically, leaving psychologically could prove far more difficult. First, many of these people, as children, suffered physical and sexual abuse, for which they never received treatment. What’s worse, they had very little education, which limited the types of employment they could find, and the amount of money they could earn.
Some of the women born into the Children of God turned to the sex industry for survival, among them two former children of David Berg’s own household. Davida Kelley worked for years as an exotic dancer before turning to modeling and “sexy wrestling .” According to a June 2005 issue of Rolling Stone, Berg’s granddaughter, Merry, barely eked out a living as a prostitute after psychological breakdowns forced her withdrawal from Bible college. The cult sometimes uses her as an example to other wannabe independents, although friends say that she is doing much better these days. Still, she had her struggles. As her mother told RS, “She’s just given up on life.”
She wasn’t the only one. Many of these children self-medicated. Merry at one time had an addiction to methamphetamine. River Phoenix, of course, most likely died chasing the dragon. Some of these second-generation members gave up completely and committed suicide, among them Abe Braaten, Simon Novotny, and Josh Lykins.
Rodriguez was in a unique position as Berg’s handpicked successor. Of course, after Berg’s death, Zerby and Kelly actually took the reins. So, one might guess that Rodriguez simply hated his mom for passing him over. But in his personal correspondence with Zerby, Rodriguez--described by almost everyone who knew him as an honorable and kind man--demonstrates a genuine crisis of conscience about the Family’s teachings and practices. In a very gentle way, he tried to reason, almost plead with his mother to distance the FoL from Berg's doctrine and reform the cult before it was too late. In a letter dated 29 May 2000, which began with the salutation, “Dear Mama and Peter; God Bless you! We [he and his wife, Elixcia Munumel] love you too,” he wrote:
People have tried to warn you before, but your minds have been so darkened to the truth and your ears so stopped to the voices of reason you have chosen to ignore them. You’re like the prophet in the vision of [David Berg’s] Bahai Temple prophecy who just keeps on chattering even after the light has gone out. Most people can see that it’s a joke and some even start laughing, but you just keep on going because you whist not that the spirit has departed.
There’s so much truth in what you believe and constantly cajole others to, but there’s also so much falsehood, and so many lies and pretenses. It’s the worst kind of lie really, because it has a good measure of truth in it. If only you could make love and acceptance the focus of the Family instead of self-righteousness and spiritual pride, you could make it into a truly wonderful place....
Of course, no reform came. And Rodriguez grew increasingly embittered. His marriage fell apart, and he moved from California to Tucson, AZ in September 2004. In a telephone interview he gave to Noah Thompson for the latter’s HBO documentary later that year, Ricky would not echo the outrage expressed by both Thompson and Davida Kelley (with Noah when he made the call). It’s certain that Rodriguez sympathized with Thompson’s anger, but he didn’t show any signs of it.
Perhaps Rodriguez had already decided to kill his mother, and didn’t want to say anything that would jeopardize that plan. One could speculate that he had already been working on it when he decided to move to Tucson.
Well, he had one big problem. Since 2001, he and his mother were estranged. So, he didn’t know where she was, although he seemed to suspect that she lived around there. More important, he knew someone in that area who would have knowledge of Zerby’s whereabouts: his mother’s close associate Angela Smith, née Susan Kauten--the same Angela Smith whom he identified (along with his mother) as one of his childhood rapists.
Figure 2. Rodriguez and Smith, from The Story of Davidito
In January 2005, Rodriguez put his plan in motion by contacting Smith and inviting her to dinner. On 8 January 2005, he arrived at her home demanding she tell him his mother’s location. When she didn’t divulge the information, he tortured her, stabbing her repeatedly until she died.
It’s not certain whether Smith gave Rodriguez false information, or none at all. What’s clear is that Rodriguez subsequently spent the next ten hours driving around in circles looking for Zerby. At 7:30 the next morning, he gave up, pulled his car off the road, and pumped a bullet into his temple.
While the Family of Love’s leadership managed to avoid the consequences of their actions--David Berg especially--someone had to pay them. In many instances, second-generation members foot the bill.
One could argue that Zerby finally paid some consequences, given the violent deaths of her son and her friend within a ten-hour time-span. Still, she didn’t pay like Rodriguez and Smith did.