1986-Dec.: Morningland Church Bomb Scare

HQ of controversial sect spared as bomb misfires

LONG BEACH — An attempt to blow up the headquarters of a controversial religious sect failed yesterday when a small primary explosion alerted police. Ten industrial-type sticks of dynamite attached to three timing devices and powered by a car battery were found planted in a 6-inch crevice between the white stucco Morningland Church building and an adjacent structure, Lt. Jim Reed said.

Police were alerted to the situation at 8:20 a.m. when officers responded to a report of a small explosion, possibly the detonation of a small charge connected to the larger bomb, Reed said.

“Either it was premature, a faulty charge or there was a malfunction in the whole system,” Reed said. The small charge disturbed the timing devices, set for about 8 a.m., blowing them out onto the sidewalk.

No injuries were reported, but about 200 people in the surrounding residential neighborhood were kept out of the area while the Sheriff’s Department Bomb Squad removed the explosives. The explosives were later detonated at an isolated beach site.

Police said the explosive potential of the devices could have affected two city blocks.

“This was one of the more serious explosive threats that has presented itself in this part of the country for a long time,” Reed said. “The person who did this was acting with no reserve and reckless abandon.”

Edward Masry, the sect’s attorney, said the church and an adjacent building housing a print shop had just opened for the day when a sect member heard the small explosion. He said no one had claimed responsibility for the bombing attempt.

The Morningland Church of the Ascended Christ, headquartered in Long Beach since 1973, has had a history of controversy.

In 1978, Masry and a church leader were charged with offering a bribe to former Lt. Gov. Mervyn Dymally. Masry was convicted, but the conviction was later overturned.

In 1978, another branch of the church, based in Escondido, closed in the midst of complaints from area residents and internal devisiveness.

More recently, the Long Beach Press-Telegram reported allegations that members were arranging sham marriages for illegal immigrants and that its current leader, Sri Patricia, claimed she had faith-healing powers and could cure AIDS.

The cult was founded 50 years ago by Sri Patricia’s late husband, Daniel Mario Sperato. Sperato, who later changed his name to Donato, named nine women he called “gopis” as church leaders. He died in 1976.

Dissenting members accused sect leaders of mind control, breaking up marriages and promoting their teachings in public schools.