PHOENIX - On Wednesday, FOX 10's Justin Lum spoke with an expert on destructive cults, as a mother and her new husband are believed to be on the run while two children remain missing.
The disappearance of Joshua "JJ" Vallow and Tylee Ryan has become a national story with a twisted timeline, and the two are believed to be in danger.
Joshua Vallow, 7, and Tylee Ryan, 17, are being sought by police in Rexberg, Idaho. (Photo credit: Rexberg Police Department)
It is known that Chad Daybell is a religious author, but could he also be a cult leader?
"This reminds me of the Lundgren Group in Kirtland, Ohio when children disappeared, parents disappeared, and Lundgren later was convicted of murder, and he was executed in 2006," said Rick Ross.
Ross, who has studied destructive cults and controversial groups since 1982 and is the founder of the Cult Education Institute, says it's clear that Chad Daybell appears to be a cult leader.
"Number one, that it’s a personality-driven group with a living leader who has absolute authority," said Ross.
Both Daybell and Lori Vallow contributed to podcasts for a group known as "Preparing A People": Doomsday preppers focused on the end of the world and the second coming of Jesus Christ. Former relatives of Vallow say her personality changed after getting close to Daybell, and another source has told FOX 10 that Vallow has read several of Daybell's books, years before their marriage.
"Preparing A People" has issued a statement in the wake of the investigation that reads, in part: "We feel it inappropriate to represent or promote any media content that featured or contained references to either Chad Daybell or Lori Vallow."
The Rexburg Police Department asked for the public’s help in locating Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow wanted for questioning in connection with the disappearance of Vallow’s children. (Photo credit: Rexberg Police Department)
"Which, in my book, is leverage to control and manipulate people. That is, to create a sense of urgency about the end of the world so that you can coerce people through that fear to obey you, follow whatever dictates you lay out," said Ross. "The leader isolates people, manipulates them to get undue influence, and that is often been called a process of thought reform or cohesive persuasion."
Idaho authorities say Vallow told witnesses that Tylee died a year before her father did, and Daybell allegedly said she had no children. Police say the couple has left Idaho, and won't cooperate in the investigation.
"I think that Chad Daybell is hiding and not cooperating for a reason, and whatever that reason is, it doesn’t seem to be good," said Ross.
According to Ross, it is normal for cult members to go off the grid and disappear. Ross says he believes Daybell's group is extreme, and that Daybell's leadership could be linked to JJ and Tylee's disappearance.
"They see them as expendable, and people do disappear, and this would be the most extreme type of group and the Daybell Group does seem to be rather extreme," said Ross.
While the online presence of Daybell's philosophies are in pause, Ross says the digital age has helped in the recruitment of cult members, without meeting in person.
"What we’re seeing now, increasingly, is how important the internet and the online community is to a cult, and how they can maintain themselves and keep recruiting without having physical contact with anyone," said Ross. "Families often come to me, and they'll say my loved one was recruited and I didn't even know it. It's really an increasingly intense phenomenon, this whole element of the online presence of groups called cults."
Idaho authorities are investigating the suspicious death of Daybell's former wife, Tammy Daybell. Meanwhile, Gilbert Police investigators are looking into the recent death of Lori Vallow's brother, who shot and killed her fourth husband, Charles Vallow, in the summer of 2019.
According to Chandler Police, Lori's brother killed Charles Vallow in self-defense, but the investigation is still open.
Vallow's third husband, Joseph Ryan, who was also Tylee's father, died in 2018 of a heart attack.