PONCHATOULA, La. – Authorities gathered new evidence from the home of a former pastor accused of leading a church group in "cult-like" rituals involving the sexual abuse of children and animals.
Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's spokeswoman Laura Covington said Saturday that authorities seized cars belonging to three of the eight arrested suspects in the case and also searched the home of former Hosanna Church (search) pastor Louis Lamonica (search) on Friday night.
"They took a few computers," Covington said.
On Saturday, authorities issued an arrest warrant for Trish Pierson (search), bringing to nine the number of suspects.
Covington said she is the wife of Allen R. Pierson (search), a 46-year-old man who lived in an apartment on the church complex and has been accused of raping a girl who was 9 or 10.
Covington would not say what charges Trish Pierson was wanted on. Covington said detectives believed Trish Pierson was somewhere in the southwestern region of the country on Saturday.
Authorities have said more arrests are possible, and the details of the case have become increasingly graphic.
Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards said members of a Ponchatoula church carried out the practices for years as part of a devil-worshipping ritual involving cat blood.
"This is hard to talk about and harder to believe, but some of the suspects have told us their intention in all of this was devil worshipping," Edwards said.
Edwards said earlier in the week that the people involved in the cult reportedly had sex with children and animals from 1999 until the church disbanded in 2003.
The investigation by the Livingston and Tangipahoa Parish sheriff's offices, the FBI and the Ponchatoula Police Department is continuing, he said.
"We feel like we have the core group, but I can't say there won't be more arrests," Edwards said.
Edwards said the victims in the case range from toddlers to teenagers. A conviction on sex-abuse charges involving juveniles under age 12 can result in the death penalty.
Some of the victims are dogs and cats.
"We know of one dog. That was a pet and the dog is dead now," Edwards said.
The sheriff said one of the suspects had sex with that dog, and that blood from a cat was used in the cult's rituals. The dog and cat apparently were pets belonging to members of the church's congregation, he added.
Beside Lamonica, 45, those arrested include Lamonica's wife, a sheriff's deputy and a woman who triggered the investigation with a call from Ohio.
In an interview with The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune, Lamonica's relatives said they could not explain how the son of a preacher, who wanted to be a preacher himself, ended up jailed on charges that one relative called "horrific."
"Obviously there's a screw loose," Liz Lamonica Roberts said of her brother. "You can't be in your right mind."
Family members said they haven't spoken with Lamonica since about eight years ago, when they were forced out of the church.
Lamonica's father, who also went by Louis, built the Hosanna Church in 1975 in an attempt to accommodate a congregation that had grown from 12 to 900. But after the elder Lamonica died, in 1984, his oldest son took over and the congregation began to splinter.
Roberts said she and fellow relatives heard last year that Lamonica had suffered what she referred to as a "nervous breakdown." Their mother tried then to reach out to him, she recalled, but Lamonica turned her away, even seeking a restraining order.
Now their mother is mourning, "like it's a death," Roberts said.