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Family Slain By Cult Remembered At Ecumenical Service

January 11, 1990 GMT

KIRTLAND, Ohio (AP) _ Neighbors and strangers jammed a memorial service for a family of five who authorities say were shot and buried under a barn by a religious cult, possibly as a sacrifice.

As about 250 people filled the small brick church Wednesday night to pay respects to the Avery family, authorities in Southern California said they arrested the last two members of the cult, ending a nationwide manhunt for 13 people accused in the slayings.

Law officers stopped a pickup truck about 60 miles northeast of San Diego and arrested Daniel David Kraft and Kathryn Johnson, said agent James Stathes of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in California.

In Kirtland, five pink candles burned at the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for 49-year-old Dennis Avery; his wife, Cheryl, 42; and their three daughters: Trina, 15; Rebecca, 13; and Karen, 7.

Four ministers of different denominations addressed the mourners.

″The tragedy that has (hit) us has caused our ordered world to collapse for the time being, and we will never be the same again,″ said the Rev. Bruce Morrison, a United Church of Christ pastor. ″When unexpected tragedy disrupts our lives in the way in which this one has, we find ourselves plunged into mystery.″

Barbara Eckart, a member of the Reorganized Church in Kirtland, 30 miles east of Cleveland, said she didn’t know the Averys because they seldom attended services, but felt the need to pray for them.

″I came to support the congregation, and because of the fact that it was an unfair thing that happened to them,″ she said. ″I feel that they didn’t have anybody here.″

Authorities say the Averys moved to Kirtland from Missouri at the urging of a former lay minister of the Reorganized Church, Jeffrey Lundgren, and later joined his cult when he broke from the church.

The Averys were killed apparently in an April 18 ritual sacrifice designed to ″cleanse″ the cult and allow it to relocate, authorities said.

The Rev. Dale Luffman, president of the northeast Ohio chapter of the Reorganized Church, has said the slayings may have been prompted by disputes over money or sex, or in an effort to keep the Averys from leaving the cult.

Until April, Lundgren rented the 15-acre farm where the bodies were found and where some of his followers had lived. Investigators said it appears the Averys, who lived nearby and were not as fervent as his other followers, were shot before the cult headed to West Virginia and eventually to a farm near Holden, Mo.

The bodies were unearthed last week after police got an anonymous tip. All five had duct tape across their eyes and some had their hands and feet bound with the tape, authorities said.

Officials in Lake County are seeking the extradition of Lundgren, his wife and son, and 10 others from California. Lundgren and the others have refused to waive the proceeding, which could take 90 days, officials said.

The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported today that Mrs. Avery’s mother received a short note from her daughter, apparently dashed off just hours before the five were shot, mentioning a planned move to Wyoming.

The two arrested Wednesday, Kraft, 25, of Nauvoo, Ill., and Johnson, 36, of Holden, Mo., had eluded authorities since the arrests of Lundgren, 39; his wife, Alice, 38; and son, Damon, 19, at a motel Sunday in National City near San Diego. Eight others also have been detained.

Other cult members implicated Lundgren as the triggerman in the deaths, a federal agent said in documents filed Wednesday in El Cajon Municipal Court.

Also, a newspaper reported that Lundgren was drawing welfare checks in San Diego County for almost a month before his capture. He applied for welfare last month and received $940 in checks at a Chula Vista motel in December and earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times said.

Ohio prosecutor Steven LaTourette said Lundgren and his son face five counts of aggravated murder. If convicted, they could face the death penalty.

The others face a variety of charges including murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

Authorities found an assortment of firearms and knives, thousands of rounds of ammunition, a .50-caliber rifle, gas masks and other equipment at two San Diego-area hotels and at a storage unit in nearby Chula Vista.

The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is based in Independence, Mo. It has roots and some beliefs in common with the Salt Lake City-based Mormon Church, but is separate.