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Found: Missing Spanish teen held by a sect in the Amazon rainforest

Peruvian police have detained the head of a cult accused of holding three women hostage

Patricia Aguilar
Patricia Aguilar has been found.
Alicante / Madrid / Lima

Patricia Aguilar, a young woman from Alicante who went missing last year after turning 18, has been located in Peru’s rainforest, a spokesperson for Spain’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has told EL PAÍS.

Peruvian police have arrested a man accused of heading a sect that kept three women as sexual slaves, including Aguilar, according to local authorities in Pangoa, the municipality where the arrest took place. Patricia, who has a one-month-old baby, has been reunited with her father Alberto Aguilar, who traveled to Peru a month ago. “It was a psychological kidnapping,” he said.

We have accessed emails where he even instructs them on how to shave intimate parts of their bodies

SOS Desaparecidos lawyer Maite Rojas

The Aguilar family “has been knocking on doors on land, sea and air to get Patricia out of the nightmare of human trafficking,” said the non-profit support group SOS Desaparecidos in a tweet.

According to her relatives, Patricia Aguilar was lured to Peru through online social media, where she was in touch with the leader of a sect named Gnosis. This man, Félix Steven Manrique, who goes by the name of Prince Gurdjeff, has been arrested and charged with human trafficking. The suspect claims that he has been chosen to repopulate the Earth following the Apocalypse, which is why he keeps a harem of women.

Patricia was located five hours after Manrique’s arrest, inside a home where she had been placed in charge of four children ages four to 10 – all fathered by the sect leader – besides her own baby. The children appear to be suffering from malnutrition, said Peruvian authorities following the rescue operation.

“They sent me a photograph of her and I could not recognize her. She was living in deplorable conditions with the children. They only received food once a week,” said the lawyer for SOS Desaparecidos, Maite Rojas. Manrique was living with two other women whose families had also reported them as missing.

Félix Steven Manrique Gómez, 35, has been arrested.
Félix Steven Manrique Gómez, 35, has been arrested.


“This case began in January. In June we secured freedom-limiting measures against Manrique, and 10 days ago an eight-member team was sent out to locate and rescue the victims,” said José Capa, head of the Peruvian department against people trafficking, in statements to EL PAÍS.

According to Capa, Manrique was located in Lima in 2017 but then dropped off the radar. “He was hiding in Pangoa. Intelligence and field work has been required to locate him,” he said.

Pangoa is 600 kilometers from the capital, in the central Amazon rainforest. The lawyer for SOS Desaparecidos said that Manrique never left the house where he held his rituals. “He would send the women off to work,” said Rojas. One of these women is currently eight months pregnant.

The Aguilar family says that Manrique took advantage of emotionally unstable teens whom he contacted through the social media. He promised to save them from the end of the world, and urged them to leave the family home as soon as they turned 18 in order to join him.

Patricia Aguilar was feeling vulnerable following the death of a beloved uncle, said her relatives. That is when she first was in touch with Manrique. Just weeks after turning 18, in January of last year, she flew to Lima to join Manrique. She only contacted her family twice after that.

“We have accessed emails where he even instructs them on how to shave intimate parts of their bodies,” said Rojas. Work by this aid group and the Basque police prevented another young woman from Guipúzcoa province from falling into the trap.

English version by Susana Urra.

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