3 arrested for kidnapping member of cult founded in Chattanooga

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SAN DIEGO - Three people were arrested on suspicion of kidnapping a relative from the Twelve Tribes Community/Church because they feared he was being "brainwashed" by the devoutly religious group, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department said Saturday.

The cult was founded in Chattanooga.

The incident began with what looked like a hit-run traffic accident in Vista on Friday night, according to Sgt. Patrick Yates. When a deputy stopped two vans that had fled "at a high rate of speed," he found three persons had abducted a 23-year-old relative, Yates said.

Andres Martinez-Manso, 51; Eliza Martinez, 25; and Robert Harry Matthew, 25, were arrested. The relative was released, apparently unharmed.

Twelve Tribes is a religious community whose members live in a house in Vista that also serves as a church. Others live on a 66-acre avocado ranch in Valley Center. The group also runs the Yellow Deli in Vista and its members are often seen at farmers markets selling produce.

Saturday afternoon, Twelve Tribes identified the person who was allegedly kidnapped as Robert Martinez and said that he "became a part of our community almost five years ago."

In a statement emailed to reporters, the group expressed sadness at the incident: "We are very thankful that he is back at home with his wife who is expecting their first child next month. We do not know of the motives for this action."

The group is part of a national movement that began in 1972 in Chattanooga, Tenn., a breakaway from the Jesus Movement. The national leader refers to himself as Yoneq, "the anointed one."

In Vista and at the Morning Star Ranch, devotees live a communal and patriarchal lifestyle, with families working on the farm and children home-schooled. The men often have full beards, and the women dress plainly. Twelve Tribes follows certain biblical scriptures but does not consider itself Christian.

"We live as a big, extended family because we love one another," the Vista group said in its statement. "We love to work together in our Yellow Deli, where many, many people in Southern California come and continually witness our life and our relationships. We are not hidden or inaccessible."

An investigation into the incident continues, the Sheriff's Department said.