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Suit Claims Avon Teachers Lured Girls into Bizarre Religious Cult

Patch file photo
Patch file photo

Thoughts of martyrdom. Suicidal ideas. Speaking an unusual language. Those are among three experiences parents claim their daughters had while attending Avon High School after allegedly being lured into a bizarre religious cult by their own teachers.

The parents filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Hartford against Avon Public Schools, three teachers and a guidance counselor, alleging the cult indoctrination and a host of other strange and inappropriate behaviors by educators over several years.

The cult treated death as celebratory and resulted in the two oldest daughters having fantasies of suicide, the lawsuit alleges.

According to the lawsuit, one teacher "constantly discussed spirituality, numerology, astrology, dreams, mysticism, looking for 'signs,' angels, symbols, 'synchronicity,' 'negativity,' seeking the 'truth,' and death."

The named defendants are Connecticut residents Tanya Mastoloni, aka Tanya Romero; Rebecca Kessler; Laura Sullivan and California resident Christopher Esposito.

Wellesley College, located in Wellesley, Mass., is also named in the lawsuit. The family alleges that one of their daughters visited the college’s Alumni Hall with other girls to enact religious dances into the early morning hours.

The daughters are now 22 and 19 years of age; their names are not included in the court papers.

The lawsuit charges that one of the teachers manipulated her students by alternating between intense affection, including giving gifts and praise, with sudden and unexplained coldness. 

After years of alleged emotional manipulation, the girls began exhibiting reclusive behavior and even adopted a bizarre language. When asked by her parents why she was withdrawn, one of the girls told them, "You don't understand the person I've become." 

On another occasion, when Mastoloni's name came up, one of the girls told her parents, "I love that woman."

Read the entire lawsuit here.

The parents claim that the younger daughter was of interest to the cult too, but escaped from the teachers’ power.

In the summer of 2013, the two older daughters reportedly stayed with an Avon teacher while awaiting housing for college. The parents were not informed of where their children were staying and the daughters have reportedly had little contact with family since that time. 

Avon Public Schools Superintendent Gary S. Mala confirmed receipt of the complaint and released a statement.

"No communications regarding that which is alleged in the complaint have been received in the past," Mala said. "We will continue to review the content of the complaint and have turned the matter over to our school district legal counsel."

Conrad F. Heede May 25, 2014 at 07:25 AM
This sounds like a scary movie, but I remember people who target and try to control kids in high school and college. Cults are extremely dangerous for these kids and it would be good to see some resources devoted to helping the parents early on. At this point, the girls are adults and will be lost. I feel bad for the parents.
Sara Bloom May 25, 2014 at 11:14 PM
People here seem to think this isn't too serious. Cult=mind control. It isn't just kids being kids. It's adults using whatever means available to gain control of impressionable, vulnerable and naive young people. We all at one time or another feel a lust for power. For most of us our conscience tells us it's not right to abuse others to get it, these cult leaders have no qualms about it, and yes I even see a form of it in some of our churches today demanding money, service, etc. in return for acceptance into the flock.
Igor May 27, 2014 at 12:07 PM
So how much MONEY do you think it will take to rectify this stitutation?
Sarah May 27, 2014 at 03:37 PM
The girls just probably had a strained relationship with their parents and wished to pull away. They are also legal adults and should be allowed to pursue their own religious beliefs. In addition, the quotes in the article are ridiculous, saying "I love that woman" and tell parents they don't understand are harmless, normal statements. Those ideas were discussed in Spanish class as an integral part of understanding the Spanish literature being studied. These ideas, however, were not forced on anyone.
Conrad F. Heede May 29, 2014 at 06:07 AM
It is not possible to explain something like a religious cult or how a powerful personality can persuade people to do things. On a national scale, all of Germany went along with a man called Adolph Hitler and we all know what happened to the neighboring people and in particular the Jewish population. This article is about some kids who's lives were impacted by some bad people. I feel bad for then and their parents and hope that some sort of system mandated arbitration was available to get them talking again. Otherwise we as a community have failed them. I think that's the point.

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