‘Let’s not let this event destroy our faith and our trust in God. . . . This little boy touched our hearts in a way that won’t be forgotten.’
A 6-year-old boy who was stabbed to death last week near an Agoura religious retreat was tearfully eulogized Saturday as Los Angeles County homicide investigators searched for clues outside the commune’s front gate.
Miguel Antero was killed Tuesday in isolated Triunfo Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains about 15 miles west of the San Fernando Valley. About 7 1/2 hours after he stepped from a school bus, the first-grader’s body was found hidden in brush 100 feet off Triunfo Canyon Road.
Members of the Vendantic Center Shanti Anantam, where Miguel lived with his family, wept as sect founder Alice Coltrane urged them to cling to their faith.
“This boy told me very lucidly . . . ‘I’m very happy in heaven,’ ” said Coltrane, who is known to members of her 35-member group as Swami Turiyasangitananda. “Let’s not let this event destroy our faith and our trust in God.”
Coltrane, widow of jazz musician John Coltrane, told a crowd of more than 120 people that overflowed a Westlake Village chapel that “this little boy touched our hearts in a way that won’t be forgotten.” Msgr. Thomas O’Connell, a Catholic priest, also participated in the brief memorial service, at which the Lord’s Prayer was sung.
Mourners Include Neighbors
Mourners included Triunfo Canyon residents who live near the commune and Miguel’s teachers from the two schools he attended, White Oak Elementary School in Westlake Village and Round Meadow Elementary School in Calabasas.
Earlier Saturday, sheriff’s investigators returned to the canyon a mile south of the Ventura Freeway and again interviewed residents in the area of the 3400 block of Triunfo Canyon Road, near the entrance to the community.
Homicide detectives Jack Fueglein and Sgt. Jack Laurie questioned hikers who use the canyon as a shortcut between Thousand Oaks and mountain trails in the Agoura area. They also searched for evidence near a grassy area at the dead-end of Triunfo Canyon Road, at the entrance to Shanti Anantam.
Laurie said investigators have no suspects.
The mood was subdued in the 48-acre compound, shaded by oaks and dotted with small cabins and cottages on both sides of slow-flowing Triunfo Creek. Several adults from the retreat watched closely as children played quietly on a wood-and-concrete bridge.
They said they have begun escorting youngsters to and from school buses as a safety precaution--although they said they are trying to avoid appearing fearful in front of the 13 children who live at the compound.
Three years ago, Coltrane moved the Vedantic Center to the canyon from its previous headquarters in Woodland Hills. The land was purchased by Coltrane for $1.2 million from a Christian group that had attempted to operate a horse ranch at the site, according to real estate sources.
Members of the 11-year-old center follow the teachings of Indian and other Eastern religions, but also draw on the beliefs of other faiths, commune leaders said.
Wear White to Signify Purity
Many of its members wear white clothing to signify purity, stick to a vegetarian diet and occasionally take vows of silence. Other times they meditate and pray, practice yoga, sometimes fast and chant “the one Lord’s many names,” according to center director Shankari Adams.
The center’s philosophy is that “religious paths are many, truth is one,” Adams said. To that end, center members study Indian Vedantic scripture along with the Bible and Islamic and Buddhist texts.
About a dozen families live at the retreat and most of its 23 adult residents hold outside jobs. Most of their children attend elementary school in the Las Virgenes Unified School District, according to members.
Adams said Saturday that the group moved to the Agoura canyon because of its isolation. Despite the slaying, there are no plans to relocate, she said. “This area was seen as kind of a sanctuary, a place for truth seekers,” she said.
“Nature can be so healing. There’s a busyness in the city that is not found here.”
Until the killing focused attention on the center, few in Triunfo Canyon knew of the group’s religious beliefs, even though members of the center served on a canyon arson watch team and helped with a Triunfo-Lobo Community Assn. safety campaign last year for nearby Kanan Road.
“I knew that they chanted,” said Steve Siegel, owner of a children’s day camp a quarter-mile downstream from the compound. “But they aren’t the type who proselytize.”
At the request of the center, Siegel hastily helped to organize a closed-door community association meeting Thursday night so canyon homeowners could discuss the slaying.
“We’ve had pretty much of a low profile until now,” said Brahma Johnson, a five-year member of the center who spoke at the meeting. “People hadn’t seen that much of us. After that meeting, some of the wonderings people had about us are disappearing.”
Canyon residents were invited to visit Shanti Anantam and to receive a fact sheet on the center. Said Adams: “We wanted to help dispel some of the rumors and paranoia with a dose of truth.” On Saturday, a resident of nearby Lobo Canyon who asked not to be identified said she had always wondered about the group, but that now its members had stripped away “the mystery” about themselves.
Purushattama Hickson, a 10-year member of the group and co-owner of a vegetarian restaurant in Westlake Village called the Dharma Lunch Counter, said strangers stopped at his business Friday to express support.