Cult member who followed Chad Daybell said he made her feel 'special' and called her 'Goddess of the Earth'

Insider/April 19, 2023

By Nate Schweber and Ashley Collman

A former friend of Lori Vallow's and a member of her small, insular, religious group testified Tuesday morning about the radicalizing influence of their leader Chad Daybell, who later married Vallow and is also being charged for the killings of her children and his wife.

Zulema Pastenes, who had befriended apocalyptic author Daybell with Vallow, said he assured Pastenes that when the rapture came she would be one of the special 144,000 saved and brought to live safely in cities of white tents.

"I believed we were doing something good to help get rid of darkness and get evil spirits off of the earth," Pastenes testified.

Pastenes described Daybell giving her multiple "blessings," and calling her "Goddess of the Earth." She read aloud text messages from Daybell including one in which he assured her: "You're on the team!"

"He made me feel very good and very special," she said. "I started to really believe it."

As Pastenes spoke, Vallow — who became a doomsday prepper through her relationship with Daybell — leaned forward, blinking her eyes and subtly shaking her head side-to-side.

Vallow's children, 17-year-old Tylee Ryan and 7-year-old Joshua "J.J." Vallow, were reported missing in November 2019. Vallow and Daybell disappeared the day after the Rexburg Police Department in Idaho conducted a well-being check and asked about the children's whereabouts.

By December 2019 they had left a string of mysterious deaths in their wake, including Vallow's previous husband, her brother, and Daybell's first wife, who Chad reportedly prophesied would die.

In January 2020, the couple was found vacationing in a luxury condo on the Hawaiian island of Kauai — without their missing children — shocking those who had been following the case.

In June 2020, the bodies of J.J. and Tylee were found buried on Daybell's property.

Pastenes said Daybell encouraged her to go to temple daily and to focus on religion to the exclusion of all else. He told her he was guided by angels and could see truths others could not because his eyes were not covered by a "veil," according to Pastenes. Vallow, meanwhile, claimed she spoke with God.

"Lori said she had conversations with Jesus Christ and I trusted her," Pastenes said.

Daybell and Vallow exerted an outsize psychological influence on Alex Cox, Vallow's brother, according to Pastenes. Cox is charged along with Daybell and Vallow with the murders of Vallow's two youngest children and Daybell's late wife, Tammy Daybell.

The tangled web of their alleged killings had already unraveled publicly before Vallow went on trial this month. Vallow has denied killing the children.

In July 2019, Cox shot and killed Vallow's fourth husband, Charles Vallow, and claimed self-defense. In November 2019, Cox and Pastenes married in Las Vegas. Cox died in Pastenes' Arizona home in December 2019 of what a medical examiner determined were natural causes.

Pastenes testified that Daybell had told Cox he was an immortal angel who once appeared to Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints founder Joseph Smith and that he had been a "powerful warrior" who had "unmasked Satan."

"Chad and Lori were telling him the only reason he had come to Earth was to protect Lori," Pastenes said of Cox. "Alex believed everything they told him."

Pastenes said she and Vallow held prayer ceremonies to drive out evil spirits they believed possessed Charles Vallow, her fourth husband. Each time they succeeded, a more powerful evil spirit took its place. Pastenes testified that Vallow came to believe Charles Vallow's "body had to be destroyed."

"I believe Chad and Lori's intentions were very evil," said Pastenes, who said she has since renounced the cult. "The things that they were saying were evil, manipulative most definitely."

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