[Update, April 8, 2008: 400+ children, plus 130+ others have left the compound]
SAN ANGELO, Texas — Sixty FLDS women willingly left a cloistered polygamist compound here Sunday to join the now 159 children taken by police and state social workers.
Texas officials can’t say why exactly the women agreed to leave the YFZ ranch but said they weren’t forced to go and may have left to be with their children.
“I can’t really speak for their motivation,” said Texas Child Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins. “During the course of our investigation, we’ve been talking and conducting interviews and we told the women if they wanted to leave the compound, they were free to do so.
“Sixty chose to do so, but I can’t say what they were individually thinking.”
No adult men have left or been taken from the reclusive ranch, situated near the western Texas prairie town of Eldorado. Sunday evening, The Eldorado Success reported an additional 32 children and nine adults had been transported from the ranch. CPS officials said more people would likely be taken from the compound throughout Sunday but would not confirm new numbers until a press briefing this afternoon.
All 219 of the FLDS community members who were removed or allowed to leave as of Saturday, were taken by bus Sunday afternoon to San Angelo, a town of about 88,000 people nearly 50 miles away. They are now being housed together in a building at the historic Ft.Fort Concho, near the Ralph R. Chase State of Texas Services Center.
Police from several agencies have surrounded the building and are keeping the press and public at bay.
“Eldorado is a small community, and we had them at two separate locations there,” Crimmins said. “San Angelo is a larger community and the city offered us facilities there.”
Dozens of cribs and cots have been set up inside the building housing the women and children.
“They’ve got everything they need,” Crimmins said. “In a large, central location we can better help them.”
State officials were still at the compound late Sunday and said they are continuing to look for more children there. Specifically, they are still looking for a 16-year-old girl whose complaint prompted the siegeraid.
“To the best of our knowledge, we have not removed her yet,” said CPS spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner.
The search began late Thursday when police and state workers forcefully entered the ranch and began taking away children. The actions came in response to a complaint from a 16-year-old girl living there who claimed she was being physically abused.
Meisner wouldn’t say how the complaint was received and declined to reveal any details of what the girl said. If the girl is already one of those who have been removed from the ranch, she has not come forward to authorities.
Asked if she believes the girl is hiding or being forced to hide somewhere inside the nearly 1,700-acre ranch, Meisner would only say that FLDS members inside the ranch were being cooperative.
So far, 18 children have showed signs of “sufficient evidence of possible abuse and neglect,” Meisner said. Those 18 will be placed with foster families “that have been located and ID’d.”
None of the children, however, had been officially placed as of late Sunday.
Once that evidence of abuse was reported to a judge, the court gave state workers permission to remove the children from the compound in order to be taken to a “neutral location” for briefings, Meisner said.
It’s unknown how long the women and children will be held in San Angelo. A judge may be holding a court hearing about the matter today, but that has not been confirmed.
The YFZ Ranch is the site of the FLDS Church’s first temple. Since finishing the sacred limestone centerpiece in 2006, Eldorado residents say members of the polygamous community have continued building a small city inside the ranch, constructing with many buildings, a water tower, a sewer system and other improvements.
Very few outsiders are allowed inside the compound, which is guarded by members of the sect.
Tensions were high Saturday night when a SWAT team entered the temple. Sheriff’s deputies prepared for the worst, but no incidents were reported. Community members, however, did at first offer resistance to the idea of police entering their temple, which is considered sacred and normally open only to those FLDS members determined to be worthy.
YFZ stands for “Yearning for Zion,” which is the name of a song written by FLDS leader Warren Jeffs. He is currently behind bars serving two five-years-to-life sentences after a jury in southern Utah last year convicted him of performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin.
Jeffs is now in Arizona, where he faces additional charges of sexual misconduct and incest involving child-bride marriages. Jeffs had been on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List before he was eventually captured near Las Vegas in August 2006.