Thoughts of martyrdom. Suicidal ideas. Speaking an unusual language. Those are among three experiences parents claim their daughters had while attending Avon High School after allegedly being lured into a bizarre religious cult by their own teachers.
The parents filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Hartford against Avon Public Schools, three teachers and a guidance counselor, alleging the cult indoctrination and a host of other strange and inappropriate behaviors by educators over several years.
The cult treated death as celebratory and resulted in the two oldest daughters having fantasies of suicide, the lawsuit alleges.
According to the lawsuit, one teacher "constantly discussed spirituality, numerology, astrology, dreams, mysticism, looking for 'signs,' angels, symbols, 'synchronicity,' 'negativity,' seeking the 'truth,' and death."
The named defendants are Connecticut residents Tanya Mastoloni, aka Tanya Romero; Rebecca Kessler; Laura Sullivan and California resident Christopher Esposito.
Wellesley College, located in Wellesley, Mass., is also named in the lawsuit. The family alleges that one of their daughters visited the college’s Alumni Hall with other girls to enact religious dances into the early morning hours.
The daughters are now 22 and 19 years of age; their names are not included in the court papers.
The lawsuit charges that one of the teachers manipulated her students by alternating between intense affection, including giving gifts and praise, with sudden and unexplained coldness.
After years of alleged emotional manipulation, the girls began exhibiting reclusive behavior and even adopted a bizarre language. When asked by her parents why she was withdrawn, one of the girls told them, "You don't understand the person I've become."
On another occasion, when Mastoloni's name came up, one of the girls told her parents, "I love that woman."
The parents claim that the younger daughter was of interest to the cult too, but escaped from the teachers’ power.
In the summer of 2013, the two older daughters reportedly stayed with an Avon teacher while awaiting housing for college. The parents were not informed of where their children were staying and the daughters have reportedly had little contact with family since that time.
Avon Public Schools Superintendent Gary S. Mala confirmed receipt of the complaint and released a statement.
"No communications regarding that which is alleged in the complaint have been received in the past," Mala said. "We will continue to review the content of the complaint and have turned the matter over to our school district legal counsel."