“They were awaiting the rapture or some other catastrophic event,” Los Angeles County Sheriff’s captain Mike Parker said.
Steve Whitmore, sheriff’s spokesman, at a hastily called news conference shown covered by KNBC Channel 4 of Los Angeles late Saturday, said the group believed “they were going to meet Jesus or deceased relatives.”
He said deputies were searching the Palmdale Desert area for the group, believed to be six adults, including men and women, and six boys and two girls.
The notes did not use the term suicide, but did say “they wanted to go on to the next life,” Whitmore said.
The group apparently belonged to three families, possibly all were Salvadoran, he said.
They were at what is believed to be a fundamentalist church with a close-knit organization, Whitmore said.
The group from Palmdale was believed to be traveling in three vehicles, a 2004 Nissan Quest, a 1995 Mercury Villager and a silver Toyota Tundra pickup, the California Highway Patrol said.
However, the members may have changed vehicles after disappearing, the CHP told msnbc.com.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department confirmed to KNBC, Channel 4, news late Saturday that its detectives were actively investigating the case.
Two husbands of two of the church members reported the persons missing at around 2 p.m. PDT, BNO News said.
Parker said one of the men had a purse he was asked to hold by one of the group members, and inside were identifications, deeds to property, and letters indicating they were awaiting the end of the world.
Parker said the group’s leader, Reyna Chicas of Palmdale, is among the missing.
Officials earlier reported nine children missing, but later revised the count to eight.
The missing group was last seen around 1 a.m. PDT on Saturday at a prayer meeting at a Palmdale church, according to the CHP.
“It is believed, through further investigation, that the missing persons’ intentions are to commit mass suicide,” the CHP said.