Tragic death linked to New York “cult”
An apparent suicide took place almost one year ago directly linked to Executive Success Programs now known as NXIVM, a privately owned for-profit company that has been called a “cult.”
Kristin Marie Snyder was in the midst of her second 16-day “intensive” program through NXIVM in Alaska when she apparently took her own life on February 6, 2003.
Ms. Snyder had just turned 35.
The young woman was initially reported as missing, her truck was found abandoned at Millers Landing in Seward.
A note was found in the truck that said:
“I attended a course called Executive Success Programs [also known as] NXIVM based out of Anchorage, [Alaska] [and] Albany, [New York]. I was brainwashed [and] my emotional center of the brain was killed/turned off. I still have feeling in my external skin but my internal organs are rotting. Please contact my parents…if you find me or this note. I am sorry…I didn’t know I was already dead. May we persist into the future…No need to search for my body.”
An old kayak was missing from the landing and it is believed that Kristin drowned herself.
Authorities searched the waters for five days, but never recovered her body or the boat. The water in Resurrection Bay is glacier fed and extremely deep, it is doubtful that Kristin will ever be recovered.
Last month an application for a death certificate was submitted to Alaska authorities.
Kristin Snyder was an attractive young woman with a loving family and many friends. She was a self-employed environmental consultant, member of the Nordic Ski Patrol and an avid outdoorswoman. And according to her family had never experienced any psychiatric or emotional disorders.
A close friend, who attended the same ESP intensive, told CultNews that Kristin had discussed suicide several times that week and was implicit about her intention to kill herself the day she disappeared.
The same friend advised that this was reported repeatedly to NXIVM leaders, but their assessment was that the distressed young woman was merely attempting to manipulate people for attention.
No meaningful help was sought from a mental health professional and no referral made.
New York psychiatrist Carlos Rueda told Forbes Magazine and the Albany Times Union last year that he has treated three NXIVM students, one who experienced a psychotic episode and required hospitalization.
“I think that the stress and the way the courses are structured may make people who have a tendency to have a psychotic disorder have an acute episode,” Rueda said.
And the psychiatrist warned that NXIVM leaders weren’t prepared or certified to deal with the potential psychological problems that can surface during the training.
Carlos Rueda is the Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Our Lady of Mercy Hospital in New York City and an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College in Valhalla, Westchester County.
Two other highly respected mental health professionals have also been critical of NXIVM and the potential consequences of participating in its programs.
Forensic psychiatrist John Hochman an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA wrote that NXIVM is “a kingdom…with psychological borders - influencing how…subjects spend their time, socialize, and think. Increasing involvement serves to…distance participants from their relationships in a manner that is slow and subtle, and thus not at all obvious to them.”
Clinical psychologist Paul Martin wrote two reports regarding NXIVM. He is the director of Wellspring Retreat, a licensed mental health facility for the rehabilitation of former cult members.
Martin recently testified as an expert witness on “cult brainwashing” in the trial of Lee Malvo, the so-called “D.C. sniper.” In his report about NXIVM the noted psychologist specifically compared “Robert Jay Lifton’s eight criteria of thought reform as applied to the Executive Success Programs.”
Lifton, a renowned psychiatrist and Harvard Medical School professor, is the author of the seminal book Thought Reform and Psychology of Totalism.
“ESP has characteristics that are consistent with the themes of thought reform [often called ‘brainwashing’] Martin stated within a “A Critical Analysis of the Executive Success Programs.”
Some of the consequences the psychologist cited that might occur as a result of such a thought reform program are a “borderline psychotic state, split identity, fear, confusion, feeling…lonely and an inability to distinguish the real from the unreal.”
Martin also noted that thought reform victims might experience relief through “suicide.”
Kristin Snyder’s parents told CultNews, “We had serious concerns about her involvement with the group and about personality changes that we sensed in her after her first exposure to ESP…We attempted to dissuade her from attending again, but to no avail.”
Kristin lived in Anchorage, thousands of miles from her concerned family.
The Snyders researched NXIVM more in-depth recently through the Internet.
Kristin’s mother wrote, “We only recently became aware of your website, but from the beginning we were aware that controversy surrounded ESP. I wish we had known more a year ago when my husband and I were so terribly concerned about our daughter.”
Sadly, such in-depth analysis of NXIVM by mental health experts only began to appear publicly after Kristin Snyder’s untimely death.
In what seems to be an effort to suppress such information NXIVM filed lawsuits against doctors Hochman, Martin and the Ross Institute for publishing the cited reports on the Internet.
However, the judge denied NXIVM’s request for an injunction.
“Our hearts are broken, but we are also enraged that a group like this can legally peddle such destructive propaganda in America,” says Mrs. Snyder.
“Kris was a lovely and gifted young woman who loved life and had never before had any emotional instability, but her descent into mental illness was rapid and we believe that it was a direct result of the manipulation of her mind by…’Vanguard’ and his doctrine,” the Snyder family concluded.
“Vanguard” is the self-proclaimed title Keith Raniere, the creator of Executive Success Programs, has chosen for himself.
When asked about NXIVM causalities Raniere told the Schenectady Sunday Gazette that the number of people who have gripes with the program, he estimates at 1 percent, are disproportionately reported in comparison with the 99 percent who had a positive experience.
Such self-serving spin offers no solace to the Snyders.