Original Sin

Page 3 of 10

In December 1995, Natalie and Enselma got into a huge argument over the church. Natalie wanted her parents to return to Souls Harbor. Enselma wanted her to quit and join a different congregation.

"She said we better go to church," Enselma recalls. "I said, 'I'm not going there,' and she got very angry and said, 'You guys are a bunch of devils. You're going to split hell wide open.' I said, 'I don't have to go to the Hancocks' church to make it,' and she said not to talk against a man of God.

"I asked her why she persisted on staying with them, and she started pulling her hair. She was so stressed out, a vein in her eye busted. She said, 'I can't be with you devils.' She was hysterical. I slapped her, and slapped her hard. I slapped her because she was hysterical and because they [the Hancocks] manipulated us through her. They did so much damage in our family. She was simply a wonderful daughter."

But Natalie would tell a different story of the argument, and her appearance belied Enselma's description of a "slap."

Natalie told others that her mother had demanded money from her and that she demanded, too, that Natalie quit the Hancocks' church. "She said she would move out," Marcus Mirabal (Matthew's brother) says of Natalie. "Her mother had been telling her for months to get out," Janet Hancock adds.

And Natalie sported "two black eyes, and her lips was busted," Troy says.

Following the fight, Natalie moved out of her parents' home and in with the Hancocks.

The size of Souls Harbor's congregation had always ebbed and flowed with the vagaries of the economy and the prevailing community sentiment. By mid-1996, with membership at an all-time low, Troy Hancock decided it was time to move on.

"It wasn't a good place to make a living," Troy says. "The people there, if they don't work at Los Alamos, they're on welfare. The membership had dwindled down to nearly nothing. People were moving, going places where they could work. It wasn't a good place to raise kids."

When Hancock decided to move -- this time God was calling him to Colorado, he says -- about a dozen members of the congregation decided to come with him. He lists the names of several people, from teenagers to middle-aged adults, who decided to pull up stakes and move to Colorado with him.

But the way some Chamisal residents tell it, Hancock acted as a latter-day Pied Piper, brainwashing and luring away the town's best, brightest and youngest to join up with his "cult" in Colorado.

Among those who left to help Hancock build a new church were Natalie (who was still living with Troy and Janet) and Matthew; Marcus Mirabal and his wife, Lisa Mondragon Mirabal; and Vincent Dominguez.

"There was nothing there for me," Marcus Mirabal says of his decision to move from Chamisal. "The highest wage I ever made was $8 an hour. I play the drums for the church, Matthew played the bass guitar, and Natalie and Lisa were singers. I just felt like we were a part of the church."

Dominguez, valedictorian of his class at Penasco High School near Chamisal, has been referred to as the town's pride and joy. He left Chamisal in the fall of 1995 to attend college in Albuquerque on a full-ride scholarship. So the town "was shocked," according to some reports, when he decided to chuck school and go to Colorado with the Hancocks. The church's critics cite that as evidence of the Hancocks' strong, negative influence and their dislike for any type of formal education.

Dominguez resents the implication.

"I respect [Troy Hancock] as a man of God," he says. "Everything he's influenced us to do is biblical. He is a good influence, because he approaches us on our own level. I've never drank, never done drugs, never got pulled into it like some of my friends did."

And, he says, the Hancocks had nothing to do with his decision to quit school.

"It was pretty much a freshman thing," Dominguez says. "I wasn't prepared. I enjoyed it, but I think I should have waited, and my grades showed that. I wasn't focused.

"When Brother Hancock decided to start a church in Colorado, I decided to give him a hand," Dominguez says.

And if anyone was "shocked" about his decision, it wasn't his parents, Dominguez says. "My parents weren't upset. They knew I wanted to quit."

As for the Hancocks' reputed "contempt" for higher education, Dominguez says he's never seen it.

"Brother Hancock encouraged me to do what I want to do," Dominguez says, "though he didn't necessarily want me to put it before God. But he never discouraged me." In fact, says Dominguez, he's presently enrolled in Front Range Community College, where he's studying computer science.

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Karen Bowers