SAN ANGELO, Texas (CNN) — Tipped that girls as young as 13 were being forced to enter “spiritual marriages,” have sex and bear children, Texas officials raided an isolated polygamist retreat in West Texas, according to court documents released Tuesday.
The information came from a 16-year-old girl who called a family violence hot line March 29, “expressing the need to leave her current living situation,” according to the affidavit.
The teen bride said she was in an abusive “spiritual” marriage to an older sect member, the documents stated. She reported that she was the man’s seventh wife and had been beaten and choked.
She said she had been hospitalized in the past with cracked ribs and hoped to escape the abuse by faking a medical condition.
The allegations prompted police and social workers to remove hundreds of children from the 1,900-acre YFZ Ranch near Eldorado, the documents stated. The ranch was built by followers of imprisoned polygamist “prophet” Warren Steed Jeffs.
Girls deemed by adult sect members to be of “child-bearing age” were forced to submit to sex and have babies, according to the documents, which provided the legal basis for authorities to remove the children and place them in state custody.
The 16-year-old said her parents brought her to the ranch a year ago and she was “spiritually married to an adult male member of the church,” the affidavit said.
According to the affidavit, the teen bride reported her husband “beat and hurt her whenever he got angry — hitting her in the chest and choking her — and that while such abuse was occurring, one of the other women in the home would hold her infant child.”
On March 30, the teen called again. She told workers she was last beaten Easter Sunday. Her husband told her if she tried to leave the ranch “she would be found and locked up.”
Authorities raided the ranch Thursday. Since then, 416 children have been removed and placed in the custody of the state’s Child Protective Services, spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner said.
Social workers have completed their work at the ranch, and said they believe all the children at risk had been removed, Meisner said.
It remains unclear whether the teen who reported being abused was among the children removed from the ranch or was taken from the compound under a different name before authorities arrived.
Court documents said evidence was found at the ranch indicating a pattern of arranging polygamous marriages between adult sect members and underage girls.
Future court hearings will determine whether there is enough evidence to keep the children from returning to the ranch. A hearing is scheduled April 17. The children will be appointed lawyers and legal guardians in about two weeks, Meisner said.
Two men have been arrested — allegedly for interfering with the investigation, authorities said.
Levi Barlow Jeffs, 18, is accused of interfering with the duties of a public servant. Leroy Johnson Steed, 40, is accused of tampering with evidence. No further information was immediately available.
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints bought the ranch four years ago and began erecting dormitories and a large white temple. Hundreds of Jeffs’ followers moved from Arizona and Utah as authorities there stepped up their own investigations.
The name is taken from one of Jeffs’ spiritual songs, “Yearning for Zion.”
Officers entered the compound with a search warrant for 50-year-old Dale Evans Barlow, who they believed was married to the 16-year-old tipster. His whereabouts remain unclear, although some published reports said he is with his family in Colorado City, Arizona, and claims not to know his accuser.
CNN’s previous visits to the ranch revealed the compound was guarded by armed men equipped with night-vision gear and other high-tech surveillance tools.
Authorities have not said whether they found weapons.
Jeffs remains jailed in Kingman, Arizona, where he awaits trial on four counts of incest and sexual conduct with a minor stemming from two arranged marriages between teenage girls and their older male relatives.
Jeffs was sentenced in November to two terms of 5 years to life for being an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old girl who said she was forced to marry her cousin.
Original title: Affidavit: Report of child brides led to raid
Apr. 8, 2008