Inside an Internet Cult: Missing Persons, Nude Meditation, Desperate Families

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Cartisha Morgan first noticed something was different about her daughter Ma’Kayla, a young single mother of a toddler, when Ma’Kayla gave her a candle as a birthday present. The year before, Ma’Kayla had given Morgan a Michael Kors bag.

“I don’t do candles or crystals,” Morgan says.

Up until that point, Ma’Kayla Wickerson, 24, wasn’t really into that stuff either. But she was becoming overwhelmed by motherhood. Still living with her mother and then 2-year-old daughter, Malaiyah, in the St. Louis area, Ma’Kayla started dressing in more off-beat clothing and began seeing a psychic. At the time, though, Morgan had no indication she was involved in anything potentially dangerous.

Ma’Kayla further surprised her mother when in Nov. 2022, she announced that she and Malaiyah were moving into a rented home in Berkeley, Mo., not far from St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

Morgan was happy for her daughter at first, but in March, she was informed by Ma’Kayla’s employer that she had stopped showing up to her well-paying job. When Morgan went over to the Berkeley house to ask her daughter what was going on, she was instead met by a man she’d never seen before holding a gun. He wouldn’t let her in and Ma’Kayla wouldn’t come out to speak to her mother face-to-face.

“I haven’t seen her or Malaiyah since then,” Morgan says.

Five months after that encounter, Ma’Kayla, now 26, Malaiyah, 3, and the four other residents of that home vanished without a trace. Police who searched the home soon discovered the identities of the other missing individuals: Naaman Williams, 29; Mikayla Thompson, 24; Gerrielle German, 27; and her 3-year-old son Ashton Mitchell.

Investigators believe the group to be followers of Rashad Jamal, who is currently serving a prison sentence in Georgia following a 2023 child molestation conviction. He has not been charged in connection with any of the disappearances.

The six missing persons were last seen on surveillance video at a store in Florissant, Mo., on Aug. 6, 2023. Maj. Steve Runge, the lead investigator for the Berkeley Police Department, asserts that the six are a part of a cult, and that they don’t want to be found. Before that, neighbors reported seeing the group meditating in the backyard, sometimes in the nude, a ritual allegedly in line with Jamal’s beliefs.

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