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For three years, family searched for daughter found dead among cultists

March 30, 1997

NEWBERG, Ore. (AP) _ LaDonna Brugato’s family was close to finding her when her body turned up among the suicide victims at the Heaven’s Gate mansion, her father said Saturday.

``I did everything to find her,″ Joe Brugato said, his voice breaking. ``I personally and my family have been searching for her for three years, but always seemed to be one step behind her.″

A private investigator hired by Brugato, a real estate agent and father of nine, finally had tracked her to an address _ a private mailbox company _ in La Jolla, Calif., within 10 miles of the mass suicide.

``We were within a week of getting her,″ Brugato told reporters gathered outside his trim home on a quiet cul-de-sac in this college town of 14,000. He wiped away his tears with a blue hand towel.

Ms. Brugato, 40, was working as a computer programmer in Colorado when she disappeared about three years ago. The driver’s license found on her body listed an address in Englewood, Colo.

``She joined the cult approximately three years ago at a very vulnerable time in her life,″ her father said. ``She gave us little information about the group she had joined, or exactly what she was doing.

``We received only two letters from her over the past two years in which she described her new life as a traveling minister. She emphasized she was very happy with God.″

Her spiritual search was evident to her former landlords in Colorado.

``She had a canopy bed set up with four diamond-shape crystals on each corner of her bed and one large crystal″ suspended from the ceiling over the middle of her bed, Al Wallace said.

``It clearly left me with the impression that this was some New Age experimental worship place that she used to commune with her gods,″ he said.

Private investigator Gary A. Crowe said Ms. Brugato’s letters to her family said ``she was in a traveling ministry and devoting her life to God. There was no talk of UFOs ... Hale-Bopp or anything like that.″

Brugato’s father plans to travel to California to claim her body.

He emphasized that his daughter was a well-educated, intelligent woman.

``Donna was an intelligent, kind and generous person. She was a gifted violinist and a talented computer programmer,″ Joe Brugato said.

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