Godwin, N.C. — Some of the 10 people charged with running a child slavery ring from a religious compound in Cumberland County were abused children themselves, authorities said Thursday.

The people are part of what authorities have described as an “alternative religious group” that forced children as young as 9 years old to work for little or no money in the fish markets and grills they use to finance their operations.

The group lives in a collection of mobile homes and buildings off U.S. Highway 301 in Godwin known locally as McCollum Ranch. Authorities said they have documented that about 125 people have lived there over the years, but they were unclear how many of that number were children.

“We do have allegations where people who are charged now were actually victims many years ago, back in the late ’80s and early ’90s,” Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West said.

John McCollum, the leader of the group, pleaded guilty in 1990 to misdemeanor child abuse for beating a child so hard with a belt it left scars.

“I think, many times, whether it’s drugs, whether it’s sex trafficking, whether it’s labor trafficking, people get in those lifestyles, and it’s hard to break the cycle.

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