6 missing people in St. Louis tied to suspected online spiritual cult

Photo of Ma'Kayla Wickerson, 25, and her three-year-old daughter Malaiyah, who are among six people missing in St. Louis believed to have been lured in by an online cult. Cartisha Morgan/Facebook

Six people, including two children, who went missing in the St. Louis area are believed to have become involved with an online spiritual cult before their disappearance.

The six victims — Naaman Williams, 29, Mikayla Thompson, 23, Ma’Kayla Wickerson, 25, her three-year daughter Malaiyah, Gerielle German, 26, and her three-year-old son Ashton — all lived together and had recently been evicted from their rented home. They were reported missing in August 2023 after vanishing from a nearby Quality Inn hotel in suburban St. Louis.

Last week, police told local media that the four adults had become followers of online guru Rashad Jamal, who is currently serving an eight-year prison sentence in Georgia for child molestation and cruelty to children.

Jamal operates the “University of Cosmic Intelligence” and gives livestreamed lectures from prison. His website states the “online university is geared towards enlightening and illuminating the minds of the carbonated beings a.k.a your so called Black & Latino people of Earth.”

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Enrolling in Jamal’s courses costs a minimum of US$33.69 per month.

Jamal states he is not a cult leader and maintains his innocence in the child molestation case. Last week he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that his social media presence is simply him giving “opinions on a plethora of different subjects: from metaphysics to quantum physics to molecular biology to marine biology to geography to Black history to world history.”

“That doesn’t make me a cult leader.”

However, in his YouTube videos, viewed by hundreds of thousands, Jamal regularly calls himself a prophet, messiah and god, the outlet reports.

Maj. Steve Runge with Berkeley police told local broadcaster KSDK that Jamal’s alleged followers often exhibit similar behaviour, including changing their names to that of a god or goddess, sharing conspiracy theories online, disconnecting from family and friends, quitting their jobs and going “off the grid.”

The mother of one of the victims, Cartisha Morgan, told the outlet that her daughter, Wickerson, had postpartum depression after giving birth to her now-three-year-old daughter.

“Meeting these people online,” Morgan said, “they just preyed on her weakness.”

A former neighbour of the six victims, Keri Roberts, said it was originally Wickerson and her three-year-old daughter who lived in the home before new people arrived and “things started changing.”

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“After that, she wasn’t Ma’Kayla no more,” Roberts said.

The neighbour added that she witnessed the residents meditating outside on the lawn, sometimes without clothes.

Wickerson’s mother is pleading with her daughter to get in touch.

“If she chooses to stay or not I just want to know that her and my granddaughter are safe. If she can just contact us and let us know,” Morgan said. “I know that people have many different opinions of things, but … everybody wants to know that their family members is OK.”

The mother of German, who went missing with her three-year-old, is also looking for answers about what happened to her daughter and grandson. German is originally from Mississippi but suddenly left to move to Missouri.

“I said to her, ‘You don’t know where you’re going. I just got a bad feeling about this. Something just doesn’t sit well with my spirit,'” Shelita Gibson said, noting that her daughter had started acting strange and meditating outside often.

“She was saying things about high frequency, low frequency and cosmic husbands. And she was kind of acting a little weird, but I really didn’t pay any attention to it at the time,” Gibson said.

“I would like to know that they’re OK so that I can get a good night’s sleep.”

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When Jamal was asked about the missing six by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in a jailhouse interview, he said: “I am pretty sure I have never met these people.”

“I get on my phone and I give a lecture. I go live, and then I get off the phone. I do not know the people that are in my live(stream). It’s too many people.”

Anyone with any information about the missing people is being asked to contact police as soon as possible.

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