Cult Confrontations: Paula and Stacy

A Mom in Mourning

Holding up a picture, Paula says, "This is my daughter, Stacy. She's in a cult. I've seen her once in 10 years.

 

"After college, Stacy got a job in Missouri. Brian, her now husband, was working there. He started talking with her about religion and things like that," Paula continues. "Stacy told me she had gone to one of these prayer meetings, and there was a prophet there. She said, 'Mom, the prophet told me that I'm going to marry Brian, and you're going to have a son within a year.' Less than seven months after Stacy and Brian met, I got a phone call and she said, 'Mom, by the way, we're getting married next Saturday. You can come if you want to.' It was in a little country church, and it was a frightening experience. This was more like a funeral. The wedding service was like hellfire and damnation."

 

Shortly after the wedding, Paula learned that her daughter had joined the group Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps in New Mexico. She received a disturbing letter from Stacy. "'Do not try to contact me and please leave me alone. Let me go and live my own life the way I want to,'" she remembers. "I fell to the floor and sobbed."

Stacy's sister, Wendy, chimes in, "It was almost like somebody else was writing it for her, or standing over her shoulders."

"In 1997, Stacy had been there about a year, a year and a half. All contact had been cut off. All letters were coming back. No phone calls. Nothing. I had this overwhelming feeling that she needed me," Paula recalls. "I got a hold of the sheriff down there. He said, 'I'll take you out there. I wouldn't go by yourself if I were you.' He went up to the door, knocked and he asked for Stacy. She came to the door, and I started to shake. When I looked at her, her eyes " they're glassy, like, expressionless. She said they had changed her name to Gracious River. The last day of the visit, Stacy said, 'Mom, you can come back, just let us know and please bring Wendy. I'd like to see Wendy.' And that's the last time I saw my daughter."

 

Soon after her visit, Paula received an ominous phone call from Stacy. "She said, 'This is Gracious River. I'm calling to inform you to never contact me again. You're no longer my mother. This is my family now.' And she hung up the phone," she recounts. "I've tried to go back, twice, and was not allowed to see her."

 

Since that trip, Paula hasn't been able to get over her daughter's devastating dismissal. "Sometimes at night, I'll go outside and look up at the sky, at the moon, and it makes me feel closer because I think well, if I can see the moon, she can see it too," she reflects. 

Dr. Phil arranges for Paula to travel to the group's compound with one of the nation's top private investigators and former FBI agent, Harold Copus. This is a risky undertaking because the cult is located in an isolated area of New Mexico.

 

As Paula packs her bags, she reflects on her mission. "We're going to see Stacy. I'm so nervous. I wonder what kept her for all these years. All I can think about is seeing her," she muses. 

In the hotel room, Harold informs Paula and several Dr. Phil producers that there is no cell phone service, and no way to call for help, if things come unraveled at the compound. "We've got no reason to think we have a problem," he says. "Let's just say it does go bad on us. There is no cell phone coverage. I just want you to know our ability to get help is zero."


Paula's emotions run high at the prospect of reuniting with Stacy. "Here we go. The moment of truth," she says. "She's my first born. I'm going to hope for the best. I'm ready to do it."

Shortly after the crew arrives on the grounds of the cult, trouble begins. A bearded man warily approaches them. Harold reaches out to shake the man's hand, but the latter is not so hospitable. "What did you need?" the man asks. 

Harold tries to placate the stranger. "I'm a private investigator. I'm working with the Dr. Phil show. This lady's daughter joined y'alls group."

 

 

"There's nobody here," the man replies.

Paula shows the man a picture of her daughter. "This is my daughter. This is Stacy. Gracious River. I come from a long way. I came to see my daughter."

"She's not here."

"Help us out and tell us where," Harold asks.

"She doesn't live here," the man insists.

Harold repeats his query several times, and each time, the bearded man answers in the negative.

When the Dr. Phil crew stands its ground, the bearded man becomes aggressive, pushing cameras. "I'm just telling you to get back in the car and go!" he bristles.

 

A second man briskly emerges from the compound. "Who are these people? Dr. Phil, is that it?" The revelation does not mollify the second man.

"Yeah, I know who they are. To me, I don't trust them as far as I can throw ‘em," he tells Harold brusquely. "If they don't get off the property, we're going to physically remove them, and you guys are going off with them."

"I don't mean any trouble. I just want to see my daughter," Paula says.

The man addresses her curtly. "If your daughter is not here, what are we supposed to do for you?" he says. "She's not here, and that's as far as this is going to go."

On the way back to the hotel, Paula expresses her disappointment. "They won't let me see her. They say she's not there. I know she's there. I don't want to give up, but I can't imagine going on the rest of my life," she says.

"You understand, we're not through," Dr. Phil assures Paula. "We're not going away."

"I'm never going to give up," Paula asserts.

"Were you shocked at how aggressive they were when they were talking to you?" Dr. Phil asks. 

"No, I've seen them almost that bad before," she replies.

Dr. Phil tries to make sense of the sect's logic. "Doesn't it seem odd that somebody who is supposedly a God-based group, is out there threatening you, and putting their finger in your face?" he asks.

Paula agrees. "It's directly opposite of what they profess," she says.

"Do you believe she was there that day?"  

"I know she was. I have no doubt in mind she was there," Paula insists. "I felt her presence there."

Dr. Phil turns to Harold Copus in the audience. "What do you think of this group after having been out there?" he asks.


"What we're seeing on tape is really not everything. These people are extremely aggressive," Harold tells Dr. Phil. "There's just this undercurrent of danger, and they'll lie to you in a heartbeat."

 

Dr. Phil addresses his previous guests. "Maura, you actually joined this cult some years ago. What did you think you were signing up for?"

"My husband and I were wanting to make some changes in our lives. Little did we know what we were getting into."

"You know the guy in the white beard there?" Dr. Phil asks. 

"Yes. That was my ex-husband," she replies. 

Turning to Paula, Dr. Phil asks, "What's your greatest fear about what's happening to your daughter, right now?"

"I'm afraid, at night, she's wanting somebody to come and get her. I just imagine her crying at night and saying, 'Mom, Dad, why aren't you coming to get me?'" she answers. 

"You understand, she's an adult, and she has the right to say she doesn't want to see you anymore."

"I know," Paula says. "If she tells me face to face, looks me in the eye and tells me that, I can accept it more than their scripted letters."

"Rebekah, how did you get out?" Dr. Phil asks. 

"I just got tired of the child abuse that went on."

 

"Is that what pushed you out?" Dr. Phil probes. 

"Absolutely."

Dr. Phil assures Paula that, even though she was unsuccessful in seeing her daughter at the compound, he won't give up. "I left a message for Deborah Green. I would like the opportunity to sit down with you, and Stacy, and her two children away from everybody else, and let's just talk about it," he tells her. "You're going to continue looking. Harold, we'll stay on this."

 

Dr. Phil makes clear that rescuing Stacy from the compound is more complicated than it appears. "Everybody is saying: 'Why don't you just get the law and go in there and do an inventory?' These are complex questions, but we're drilling down on them," he says.