When the Children of God religious sect broke apart in 1994 after the death of its founder, twins Flor and Tamar Edwards, now 34, were abruptly tossed into the real world. And it was an entirely different one from the isolated existence they’d known inside the notorious ’60s-bred hippie cult.
Discussing their experiences on ABC’s Nightline, it’s impossible not to notice the parallels between the Flors’ lives and the main character on Netflix’s popular Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt comedy series, which centers on an escapee from an apocalyptic cult. In this case, real life looks remarkably … creepier.
After the Children of God disbanded (it regrouped under the new name the Family International), some ex-members accused founder David Brandt Berg of sexually abusing both kids and adults in the group. Though the Edwards say they experienced nothing like that, they did tell reporters they grew up in an environment that equated plentiful sex with expressions of faith. Getting spanked as early as 6 months old wasn’t unusual, and the twins said they often saw adults engaged in sex acts.
According to reports, at least 14 former members of the sect have committed suicide over the years. One of the unfortunate victims was Ricky Rodriguez, whose mother, Karen Zerby, became one of the cult’s leaders after Berg died.
Rodriguez, who had reportedly been seen having sex with his mother when he was just 11 years old, was so scarred by the abuse he said he’d experienced at the hands of his caretakers that he plotted to kill Zerby. Instead he ended up killing his former nanny, then taking his own life.
The Edwards twins also told Nightline that, like Netflix’s Kimmy Schmidt (played by actress Ellie Kemper), they grew up believing they’d die in an apocalypse that never happened. They were told they would perish at age 12 as “God’s martyrs.” Education was forbidden, and the twins didn’t learn to read until age 9.
Post-cult, the twins, whose family joined the Children of God in the ’80s, were slowly introduced to the real world. They ate pizza, saw movies, and learned to ride bicycles, but they remain haunted by the childhood they never really had.
Check out their dramatic story on Nightline:
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Photo: Courtesy of ABC Nightline