Pennsylvania church stages “fake” kidnapping of youth group to teach about religious persecution

Holy fuck.

Teenagers at the Glad Tidings Assembly of God Church in Middletown, Pa., were surprised when they attended a youth group meeting at the church on March 21 and were ambushed by what seemed to be real kidnappers.

Adults, including an off-duty cop, brandished weapons and put bags over the heads of the children, ages 13 through 18, and forced them into a church van. The group was driven to the home of an assistant pastor, who was presented before the group with a seemingly bloodied and bruised face, according to Dauphin County District Attorney Fran Chardo.

One of the adults used a real AK-47, though the gun was unloaded, Chardo said.

The church leaders who organized the fake hostage situation later told law enforcement that the event was meant to be a lesson to the children on how Christians are persecuted in places around the world, but the “educational” event may actually constitute a crime, Chardo said.

How in the world do you plan this sort of thing without considering that it may legitimately terrify and emotionally abuse these children? Is teaching about religious persecution really more important than protecting your children from harm? I guess I shouldn’t expect anything more from people who emotionally abuse children with threats of hell and damnation.


  1. Andy says

    “How in the world do you plan this sort of thing without considering that it may legitimately terrify and emotionally abuse these children?”

    Terrifying and emotionally abusing children is practically religion’s raison d’être. I mean, this is a couple orders of magnitude more fucked up than simply terrifying young children with descriptions of sinners suffering in hell, but the difference is in quantity, not in kind.

    What really strikes me is the way so many religious people can engage in blatantly illegal behavior and, when called on their lawbreaking, seem shocked that “we did it for the good of their souls” isn’t a viable excuse for kidnapping children, or locking people in hell houses, or brutal exorcism rituals, etc.

  2. says

    Adults, including an off-duty cop, brandished weapons and put bags over the heads of the children, ages 13 through 18, and forced them into a church van.

    So what exactly is “fake” about this? Sounds like the real deal to me.

  3. Mike de Fleuriot says

    Does Penn have a “stand your ground” thing? Them christians are good hunting.

  4. glenmorangie10 says

    Great lesson. Couldn’t they have slapped a few of the kids around, or sexually assaulted one or two, to…ah fuck I can’t even finish an attempt at black humour. I am a lifelong pacifist and this makes me want to get on a plane, fly direct to PA, and punch people in the nose. Oh, and there was an OFF-DUTY COP in the group? What the fuck? Here’s a good lesson for you, off-duty cop: when you actually perpetrate all of the elements of the crime of kidnapping, you are a kidnapper. When you plan with others to do same, you are conspiring. Please consider these statements from a jail cell.

  5. says

    … I guess I shouldn’t expect anything more from people who emotionally abuse children with threats of hell and damnation.

    Much ink (and many bits on server hard drives) has already been dedicated to this, but anyway, seriously…

    … seriously, that whole doctrine, I think it messes up a lot of things, and messes them up a whole lot.

    Like, for example, a sane sense of proportion about things.

    I mean, recall that the universe of the member of a sect is one in which they either (a) really believe such horrors exist (and, indeed, such horrors are apparently a just and acceptable punishment decreed by an ultimate and unquestionable authority, indeed, by the very creator of the universe), or (b) decide, whether or not they’re particularly sure of the truth of this themselves, nonetheless, that telling children it is true is an acceptable strategy for keeping them in the fold.

    I think of that, and yeah, somehow I’m not terribly surprised by anything such believers do. Their chief role model, apparently, is pretty okay with eternal torture–hey, he’ll even argue you oughtta be there just ‘cos you didn’t believe in him, notwithstanding his stubborn refusal to give a particularly convincing accounting for himself*. So why would I be surprised when they sign off on a little waterboarding, here and there?

    (*/It’s a little like we’re playing ‘Where’s Waldo’, and Waldo’s not even, actually, anywhere in the picture you’re given, but if you don’t go along and say you see him anyway, you get extradited to a prison in Syria. Forever.)

  6. Barry H. says

    The DA’s office is in the middle of an ongoing investigation so the political speak is sort of required. Sounding off about what he may actually think could compromise their case if they decide to bring one, so try not to be too hard on the guy.

  7. unbound says

    I think they just need to confirm whether the kids were informed of the kidnapping ahead of time. If they were not made aware prior to the event, it is indeed an actual kidnapping and would be considered a crime. If the kids were made aware ahead of time, then no crime was committed…just stupidity.

  8. Rabidtreeweasel says

    The church I grew up in did this at Summer camp. Men in fatigues with guns came into our bunks before sun rise, marched us into the yard and at gun point put us through military drills. It was the last day of camp, and after a day of torment we had chapel where we sat and listened to a gospel message about how if we didn’t accept Jesus we’d be put through worse after the rapture.

    There was also a training camp for mission work where they divided us in half, rich/poor, and starved the second group while forcing them to watch the rich group feast for 5 days. The rich group was allowed to give out food if they wanted to, creating an abusive environment similar to the prison experiments. It was supposed to teach us compassion.

    Is it sad that it didn’t occur to me that might have been abusive until I read this article?

  9. ash says

    Let’s hope the off-duty-cop becomes a cop-without-a-job-cop.
    The most interesting point of interest here is the fact that the parents of these kids (at least some if not all) were NOT complicit in this. I can’t imagine any parent, no matter how devout, being “OK” with their kids being around AK47s…loaded or not. I think it will be parental outrage that’ll get these perps serving some time.

  10. says

    That was my first thought, after “wtfingf?” I mean, it’s not like no one has had this spectacularly bad idea before, and could tell these douchenozzles it wouldn’t end well.

  11. Mina says

    I think the part that killed me most (among many really off and painful parts) was that one person responsible said, “I guess next time we’ll make sure we get parental permission.”

    Because THAT is really the big issue here, not terrorizing children over an imaginary sky god. Yup. Great priorities there, people.

  12. says

    Well, they burned all their books and got that evil liberal media out of their lives…how else are they supposed to teach their kids about anything?

  13. D-Dave says

    I think I speak for more than just myself when I say, W T and a side of F?!

    And people wonder why atheists can be so angry…

  14. says

    Rabidtreeweasel: what’s sad about that — not to mention scary — is a) how many kids probably go through the same abuse and never get any idea that it’s abusive; and b) what the hell kind of adults volunteer to participate in such abusive actions anyway? If that’s how they treat the kids they consider “theirs,” one has to wonder how they’d treat kids from a different tradition.

  15. evilDoug says

    I would regard any parent who allowed their kid to remain in any youth group associated with that church to be somewhere between negligent and criminal.

  16. says

    Was that wrong? Should we not have done that?

    Well done, church authorities, for teaching the kids that the people most likely to traumatize the kids are the church authorities themselves. Plus the church authorities now feel persecuted because people don’t like them kidnapping children!

    The kids get a valuable lesson in the true nature of their church and the adults get their persecution complex validated.

  17. says

    Rule One of the Religious Right gun nuts: ignore all rational rules about handling guns. An honest-to-Satan AK-47, aimed at children and treated like a toy? WTF?!?!

    Of course, once you believe in Heaven and Hell, and have convinced children of those beliefs, you can pretty much justify any behavior you want and get away with it within your little group. That’s one of those truths about the harm of ALL religion, because once you’re successfully selling belief without reason, you never have to give or get a good reason for ANYTHING.

  18. says

    PZ, in his post on this, said:

    They claim they were ‘training’ kids in what they might experience for real, because Christians are persecuted…in America? Really?

    I get the feeling that even in the places where Christians are psersecuted most, the persecution is nothing like what these kids were put through — most likely it’s more subtle, less dramatic or eye-catching, and keeping the victims apart, not herding them together. These wankers have no idea what happens in the real world, and are basing their “education” on bad shoot-em-up movies.

    And here’s another question: what would have happened if one or more of the kids had resisted the attack?

  19. Rabidtreeweasel says

    I know, right? At the time I thought that if it was wrong, then they wouldn’t be doing it. If it was wrong, they’d be arrested because that’s what happens when you do horrible things. Also, the abuse was institutionalized. They used Seniors to carry out orders and that made it seem more like it was older kids being jerks. In retrospect they had probably been through the same thing. I know I’m not proud of how I acted when it was my turn. I could have said no at any time.

    I can see how this kind if thing happens without being reported. The fact that an outsider experienced the abuse has a lot to do with why it was reported this time. Requiring parental consent guarantees only the meek and indoctrinated are included in the future.

    Agh this is nauseating. I’m going to look at lol cats.

  20. lefty891 says

    As one of those liberals who has some experience with firearms, all I can think about is that unloading the clip doesn’t mean that you don’t always have one left in the chamber. And what then…?

  21. left0ver1under says

    Fake kidnappings to go with fake persecution. Why be surprised?

    I’m not suggesting there aren’t instances in various countries where people aren’t arrested or harassed for their religion, but those who terrorized the kids are pretending it’s a worldwide and organized campaign to annihilate all christians. They’re brainwashing those kids into a willingness to do the same (become violent) toward non-christians.

  22. Rod says

    Wouldn’t it have been neat if one of the bigger kids kneed the cop in the nuts, elbowed a few noses and made a run for it?
    Wonder what the fallout wouldhave been then?

  23. says

    It’s a good thing I wasn’t one of those kids. I was the kid who set a trap for the Tooth Fairy, and almost shot my mom’s eye out with a rubber dart.

  24. Anonymous says

    I love your country, Jen. It’s so fucking absurd that you could not make this shit up.

    Let us hold up the USoA as a dire warning to others.

    Those of you with some sanity left, we have room in Europe…

  25. bubba707 says

    If everyone involved in this stupidity and cruelty doesn’t get at least 10 years in prison I’ll know for a certainty this country is forever fucked.

  26. Taifun says

    Yes. Our castle doctrine was expanded last year, removing duty to retreat and more or less allows standing of ground pretty much anywhere (as long as you’re they’re legally).

    Of course, tough luck if your attacker happens to be an off-duty stasi.

  27. Rod says

    Canada could use some rationalisit, and as well we can offer a ringside seat to the circus. In roughly the same language.

  28. Bleeder says

    If the kid gets forced to go somewhere, that isn’t a “fake” kidnapping, it is a kidnapping.

    Pointing a firearm at a kid who is being kidnapped is assault, regardless of whether or not it is loaded.

    The local DA or state attorney is going to under tremendous pressure from all sides on this one. Sadly, these idiots will probably get a slap on the wrist.

  29. crowepps says

    Church of Christ is one of the faiths enthusiastic about the ‘A Godly Baby Is A Crying Baby’ discipline promoted by Michael and Debi Pearl in their manifesto of sadism “Train Up A Child”. If the institutional church can ignore the fact that pastors are encouraging parents to continue practices that have resulted in multiple children literally being beaten to death, they’re not going to have any trouble ignoring a little sobbing and terror.

  30. Godlesspanther says

    I can’t agree with this. Crimes were committed. There is one article I found (sorry can’t remember where now) in which there was a photograph of the bruises an a girl’s knees that were caused during this incident. This is assault and battery. It is a crime. Kidnapping is a crime. False imprisonment is a crime. Brandishing a weapon is a crime.

    A crime does nor and can not become legal if the victim is warned ahead of time.


    Yes, your Honor, I did rob the bank but I gave them a call ahead of time warning them that I was going to do it — so that makes it legal, right?



  31. Godlesspanther says

    That is interesting. I have been doing independent research on the nature of religious cults for several years. I have read that accounts of people who have left such groups and write about the before and after experiences. It is very common for people to see something as being normal and reasonable when they are right in the middle of it and then look at it from an outsider’s point of view and then realize how completely insane it really is.

  32. Rawnaeris says

    Here is a record I wrote down of a church camp that did something similar while I was there. There is not much more frightening and horrifying than being told you have been kidnapped to sell as a slave.

    The first one I went to…that’s the one that messed me up for the next 3.5 years. Most of you have probably heard some of the horror stories of ‘Jesus Camps.’ I went to one. It probably isn’t the most fucked-up one, but I suspect it ranks up there.
    The place was like a tutorial of “How to Brainwash Teens in One Week.”
    From Wikipedia

    Wiki wrote:Chosen techniques included dehumanizing of individuals by keeping them in filth, sleep deprivation, partial sensory deprivation, psychological harassment, inculcation of guilt and group social pressure.

    The so called “Camp Eagle” did 5 out of 6 of those. We got there on a Sunday, left on a Friday. For those of you not familiar with camps, you wake up when they tell you, take restroom breaks when they give you permission and eat when they give you food.

    Wednesday we were brought to the common area. Men in ski masks were waving around those paintball guns that look like real machine guns at first glance. We were split into three groups: my churches females, the rest of the females at the camp and the males. My group was herded along a goat trail to a hut. We were told that we’d been sold as slaves to the couple that lived there. The men with guns left. We were told that the couple was going to try to protect us and that we’d been sold because we were Christians.

    Wednesday night came and we made ourselves dinner of potato, beans and rice. I remember teaching some of the other girls how to peel the potatoes without cutting themselves. As true night fell, we were given rough blankets and straw to sleep on. We slept in a goat pen. The bathroom was a hole in the ground up another trail. Some of us stayed up by the fire and talked.

    At some point we were given a kerosene hand lantern. I came into possession of it. The handle was a bit loose and when I raised it to see something, it swung back and burned the shit out of my arm. I know I set it down, taking care to place it away from the straw, and I remember grabbing another girl’s water bottle and squirting water on the burn. This self-care was the only medical attention I got for the burn.

    Sometime after that, in the very early hours of the morning, we were woken up and again herded by people with guns. This time we ended in the tennis courts. We were told to accept god. We were told it was a demonstration of what our brethren in third-world countries had to go through every day. We were told God was great and that he would take care of them and us and provide for all of us. There was a short worship service. We were allowed to go back to our dorm beds. We were allowed 1 extra hour of sleep from a ‘normal’ day as a reward for being up until about 5 am. The hour later breakfast was at 9 am instead of 8 am.

    This should have set off alarms in my head, but I was 15 at the time. And the funny thing about brainwashing is that it works.

  33. Godlesspanther says

    Thank you for posting this. I have been absolutely furious about it since the story came out. What has bothered me so much if the pastor’s assumption that he should face no consequences for committing several felonies. He wants to say the Christians are persecuted and then he also assumes that he is above the law just because he squeaks about Jesus all the time.

    This is not fair or rational. Let’s change that Jesus-exemption. I am a radical extremist who thinks that the law is the law even if you believe in magical hogwash — the law should still apply.

  34. Steve says

    If they are charged, you can be certain that they will see this as confirmation that they are persecuted

  35. carlie says

    I knew people in churches that did stuff like this in the 80s. It’s been going on a long time.

  36. Sastra says

    E gads.

    Imo, the intense, dramatic, over-the-top situation is not really meant to accurately reflect what “might” happen to these kids if they decide to go on a mission trip or become missionaries. It’s meant instead to reinforce an intense, dramatic, over-the-top world view where the Saved and the Damned are involved in a cosmic battle of Good vs. Evil. The Creator of the universe scrutinizes every move you make, putting you under greater and greater stresses in an attempt to see if you will “break,” hoping to toughen you up in a game where the stakes are eternal and the enemy is without conscience.

    This isn’t a scenario from real life. It’s something that would happen in the Bible, or in a martyr story, or some other tale designed to strengthen both your faith in God — and your faith that non-believers are all out to get you. They’re cartoon character Bad Guys in a black-and-white world. Expect it, and mentally prepare to ‘stand your ground’ for God.

    Time for a reality check. I think they ought to prosecute the faith-drunk nitwits who saw this as a good “lesson.” It’s a lesson, all right. But not the one they think they were teaching.

  37. kagekiri says

    Damn, and I thought setting up new freshmen in the middle of a crowd of upperclassmen, then chucking water balloons at them was shitty church hazing. That’s really messed up.

    Hmm…the closest thing to this madness I experienced was burning “evil” books, CDs, and game cartridges to sacrifice those idols to God.

  38. coyotenose says

    The point that unbound was making is that the kids and their parents may have agreed to a FAKE event beforehand, in which case there is no crime in the first place, any more than an actor commits a crime when he threatens another actor with a prop gun during a play.

    1. They’ll all claim it was arranged beforehand even though it wasn’t, cause, y’know, the Bible isn’t strict on lying.

    2. If this fake kidnapping convinced any outsiders that a real crime occurred, their butts are still going to be held over the fire. And how would anyone have gotten the police involved unless SOMEONE saw what they thought was a real crime?

  39. coyotenose says

    Mea culpa. The article states outright that at least one child was not a willing participant and reported. These lunatics are screwed.

  40. sean says

    18 is age of an adult in Pennsylvania. So parental consent would not apply if victim was 18 or older.

  41. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    The pastor says he’ll continue to do this …but he’ll get parental permission first. I don’t think parents can sign a permission slip for having masked men abduct their children at gunpoint and terrorize their children. That would be conspiring to abuse them.

    And, the girl whose mom took it to the police was a casual visitor, there at a friend’s invitation. Can she witness the abduction of those kids whose parents signed the consent forms and not be terrorized herself? I don’t think so.

  42. Happiestsadist says

    Well, a cop was part of this kidnapping, so I’m not exactly confident that this is going to be prosecuted.

  43. Rabidtreeweasel says

    I’ve been an out of the closet atheist for 5the years now and am still having quite a few “aha!”I moments. It would seem I’m not alone. An internet search revealed a small handful of defectors, all anonymous. The group is large in my state with 20it plants in the surrounding area, and carries a lot of clout.

  44. Rabidtreeweasel says

    I’m not advocating the actions, but in a quick comparison how different is this from the gay cure camps or the deprogramming/boot camp religious centers? This is actually a common practice. So common the kids involved usually have no context to think it’s at all wrong. I don’t know that it’s strictly legal, and maybe this incident will help shine a light, but it’s been over looked by authorities since at least the early 90’s when I went through it

  45. Rabidtreeweasel says

    Also, do you have any links? Those readings sound useful and would be much appreciated.

  46. Rabidtreeweasel says

    That’s pretty crappy treatment too! The experiences I described were what the most “devoted” members of our group went through. General membership was usually short lived. People either left due to the intense pressure to become more involved or opted in to the missionary program.

  47. Steve says

    Children in the US have little rights. Remember that the US is the only country besides Somalia that hasn’t ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, precisely due to the pressure of religious fucktards who fear about the “right” to inflict physical and mental abuse on their brood

  48. Jenn says

    The “holy fuck” at the beginning pretty much says it all. Seriously…what the hell is wrong with these people?

  49. smrnda says

    First off, if I decided to take a fake or unloaded gun to work and brandish it to just *show for their own good* how unprepared my co-workers were to the threat of a workplace shooting I would imagine I’d be in jail or a psychiatric facility.

    The only difference here is a power differential; these are kids and our laws take a very hands-off view to what goes on in residential facilities for children and youth, particularly ones run by religious groups. You can look up lots of terrible stories, Hephzibah(sp?) House for girls in Indiana is a pretty horrible place.

    It is similar to other ‘tough love’ type camps, but that doesn’t make it right; I think all people running such psychologically abusive and manipulative programs need to be put in jail. The whole deal is that once a person decides that the suffering, horror, abuse and degradation is for your own good in terms of character or ‘spirituality’ and you happen to be a minor, you have few rights. Lots of abusive programs limit contact with the outside world, which also means that when kids report abuse it’s obviously and by design of the sick people who run those programs not going to be in a timely fashion so that it can be investigated.

    As far as this being a real kidnapping, if I bring a fake gun and rob a bank, it’s still a crime even if I go back later without the ski mask and say ‘just kidding! here’s the money back!’ they busted out guns (not necessarily fake but not loaded) and actually transported kids from one location to another. Regardless of intent, I can’t think of any way that it’s not a crime.

    I’m hoping that the girl who was just invited along sticks it to them and presses charges. I think she’d have a pretty strong case. Since she’s not an official cult member she’s likely not brainwashed.

    Speaking of that, wouldn’t something like this clue you in that the adults in the religion are just nuts?

  50. phatone says

    kick the pastor in the balls, repeatedly, with size 12 doc martens. Maybe then he will realize the error of his ways ;)

  51. Bleeder says

    I’m not going to say there’s a big difference…. but the AK-47 may be one legally useful difference when it comes to getting a prosecution here versus the prior status quo indifference to boot camp/cure camps.

  52. says

    This is astonishingly, mouth-falling-openly, mind-bogglingly STUPID! Is there a word for far more stupid than an idiot? I don’t think there is a village desperate enough to take one of these drooling, a-hyucking, guffawing mega idiots in as one of theirs.

    Where in the world are these kids going to need to have had this experience? Are they going to Somalia or some other anarchic place? Do they need to practice resisting interrogation and torture as if they’re CIA agents? What twisted action movie fantasy are these macro idiots playing out? I think they just want to instill a strong persecution complex in the kids, thinking it will bolster their dedication. A contrived attitude of being the martyr is a cheap substitute for a positive, constructive faith and self-image. I hope that after the trauma wears off, these kids realize they’ve been abused and never go back.

    If the parents were not informed and the kids were not warned, then the parents should sue the bejesus out of that pastor and that church. Sue it until not one brick stands upon another. If the parents were informed, but the kids were not warned, then the parents are even BIGGER ULTRA IDIOTS than anyone else involved.

  53. benjaminsa says

    I guess I shouldn’t expect anything more from people who emotionally abuse children with threats of hell and damnation.

    You should expect exactly this sort of behaviour. 0 crticial thinking skills, and a lifetime of being told that the best people obey unquestionably and faithfully makes this possible. You have to question the rationality and sanity of someone who picks up an automatic weapon, preparing to scare little children, and doesn’t have that little voice that goes ‘ahem, maybe this is a bad idea…’ and next weekend they go back to exactly these sorts of lessons. fuck.

  54. nemothederv says

    The church leaders who organized the fake hostage situation later told law enforcement …….

    “later told law enforcement” I can see it now.

    “No officer we were just kidding. No, really. You wont take my word for it? I’m a pastor.”

    What state of mind would you have to be in that would make this seem like a good idea?

  55. Svlad Cjelli says

    Indeed. And pointing a gun at someone is always either reckless or willful endangerment. No exceptions, ever.

  56. says

    Don’t they teach the rules for gun safety to cops anymore!?

    It’s ALWAYS loaded…always. Unless it’s in pieces on a work bench it is presumed to be loaded. Even if you’ve just checked; it is loaded

    NEVER point it at anything you do not intend to shoot. If you think you can point an unloaded gun at something see previous point.

  57. Zuche says

    Everything is insane when viewed from the outside. That’s why comedy is a viable profession.

  58. Peter says

    Every few years a similar situation comes to light. This event was stupid, cruel, dishonest, and traumatizing to the kids, but not all that unusual. In my mind that’s the worst thing about it–this sort of stuff seems to happen fairly frequently. I don’t know who thought it up or why it was considered a good idea.
    I can only hope that the kids learned the right lesson–that their preachers rely on deception and threats because they have nothing else.

  59. treefrog says

    What kills me is that this wasn’t the 1st time:

    Lanza said the church has conducted similar events at least twice before, adding that “there was much thought given to the safety aspect.”

  60. bubba707 says

    Yeah, safety aspect….. until they get a few that believe in fighting back with whatever weapons come to hand, like a kick in the balls or perhaps a heavy object to the head of a “kidnapper”. Wonder what would have been the result if a kid took that AK from the deputy and brained him with it.

  61. Azkyroth says

    …and they won’t see it as vindication from on high if they aren’t?

    You’re smarter than that. You figured out how to post a comment, after all.

  62. bm says

    What the fuck?
    I knew churches did stupid stuff, but this is just idiocy. Those poor kids. I’d be all over these people until they had to shut their doors. Unbelievable.

  63. says

    Way to create artificial persecution. Maybe we can teach their women the value of women’s rights by treating them like afghan women…

    Oh right. That’s moronic. Picking up Christian Persecution is to ignore all the people persecuted by Christians themselves. Martyr culture is highly irritating especially when there is no reason for your martyrdom.

  64. bubba707 says

    How would it NOT be helpful? These fools believe staging a kidnapping is a good thing to do to kids, that traumatizing them is just fine. What would have happened if several of the kids fought back? How much injury to these kids would you call acceptable? An off duty deputy using a real AK is ok with you? This is acceptable for a person entrusted with law enforcement? 10 years in the crowbar hotel is getting off light.

  65. John Horstman says

    Ditto; it looks like “[terrifying] and emotionally [abusing] these children” was exactly the point. As much as some of these folks like to use teh childrenz as a rationalization for various bigotries, they frequently don’t act in ways promoting the best interests of children (corporal punishment, opposing public assistance programs for children born into poverty, coercing their behavior with tales of hellfire and damnation, trying to force schools to lie to them, etc.).

  66. says

    Missionaries and missionary workers are a blessing to the whole world, I wish poeple would give them more credit for the work they do. Great post thank you.

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