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On Ms. Chicas‘ usually quiet street, neighbors craned their necks at the deputies and reporters gathered outside her seemingly empty two-story gray stucco home.

Some described her as a friendly and devout — if somewhat hapless — woman who was devoted to her two young children, a boy and a girl.

But others sketched her as a virtual shut-in, whose children never joined other neighborhood kids in play and who often held late-night multigenerational gatherings in her home.

“She was really quiet. She kept to herself,” said across-the-street neighbor Cheri Kofahl, who saw groups of 12 to 15 adults and children gather in Chicas‘ home several times over the summer.

One night, about a week ago, the group didn’t leave until 2 a.m., Kofahl said.

Before apparently forming her own religious group, Ms. Chicas was a member of Iglesia De Cristo Miel, a Christian congregation that meets in a large tan church building with a sloping tile roof beside an empty lot in a Palmdale neighborhood.

Pastor Felipe Vides, whose 400-member parish consists mostly of immigrants from Latin America, said Ms. Chicas left the congregation about two years ago without much explanation.

“She appeared normal, calm. We didn’t see anything strange,” Mr. Vides said.

Authorities had known of Ms. Chicas‘ group before this weekend’s incident.

About six months ago, the group had planned to head to Vasquez Rocks, a wilderness area near Palmdale, to await a catastrophic earthquake or similar event, but one member of the group revealed details of the trip to relatives, Parker said. The trip was called off and the member kicked out.

This time, the episode ended when deputies, after a tip from a local resident, arrived at the park and found the children playing on swings and the adults on a blanket praying out loud in Spanish.

The adults, who expressed shock at the notion that they might harm themselves, formed a caravan of two minivans and a pickup truck and presumably returned to their worried families.

But Deputy Thomas Kim said Ms. Chicas was held for a mental evaluation after authorities determined she was not able to care for herself or others.

Ms. Chicas gave investigators a false name and was rambling during questioning, Mr. Kim said. She told deputies she had no children, even though her two kids were with her.

The children were in sheriff’s protective custody Sunday afternoon, Mr. Kim said.

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