Children in Alamo case still sought
TEXARKANA — State child protective services caseworkers spent Wednesday finding foster homes for the 20 children seized from the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries while a search continued for other children who were missed during a sweep of Alamo properties.
The children, 11 boys and nine girls, were taken into protective custody Tuesday after Arkansas State Police officers and Department of Human Services caseworkers went to Alamo’s compound in Fouke and to more than a dozen Alamo-controlled homes and businesses in the Fort Smith area.
No children were found at those places, but 17 were found after police stopped two vans on Arkansas 245 in Texarkana, headed toward the Texas state line. Three brothers, the youngest of whom appeared to be at least 12, were taken into custody at the Juvenile Court Center in Texarkana, where they had been attending a hearing on the custody status of four girls who were taken from the compound after a raid in September.
The children taken into custody Tuesday were all between the ages of 1 and 17 and included other sibling groups, including a set of six siblings who were in the vans, Human Services Department spokesman Julie Munsell said Wednesday. All the children lived at the Fouke compound, she said.
By Wednesday afternoon, all the children’s parents had been identified, and the children were given health screenings and assessments to determine their mental health and educational needs, Munsell said. The children were then placed into foster homes across the state.
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The Human Services Department’s Children and Family Services Division will investigate whether the children have been abused or neglected and will forward their findings to a prosecutor for possible charges, Munsell said.
A hearing was set for Monday before Miller County Circuit Judge Kirk Johnson on whether the children should remain in foster care. Johnson could also decide at that hearing whether the parents should be allowed visits. If the children stay in foster homes, further hearings will be scheduled within 30 days.
The department had been looking at conditions within the church since the Sept. 20 raid by FBI agents and state police officers who were investigating allegations that children had been physically and sexually abused at the compound. Six girls, ages 10 to 17, were taken into protective custody.
Alamo, the ministry’s 74-yearold leader, was arrested five days later on charges of transporting a minor across state lines for sexual purposes.
On Monday evening, Sebastian County Circuit Judge Mark Hewett and Miller County Circuit Judge Joe Griffin signed orders finding that probable cause existed to believe other children of church members had been abused or were at risk of abuse or neglect. The orders allowed the Human Services Department to take in any children at the compound and at 14 Alamo-controlled homes, warehouses and other businesses in the Fort Smith area. The orders also named certain children or their families.
Griffin said Wednesday that the order he signed contained four pages of names.
“According to the allegations, there are some habits or practices in the church that create a serious risk of harm to the children,” Griffin said.
The order included some girls who were alleged to have been sexually abused, he said.
Munsell said she didn’t know how many children covered by the order had been missed Tuesday. She said the department is continuing to look for the children and has sent copies of the orders to social service agencies in Oklahoma, where some members of Alamo’s church in Fort Smith live, as well as California and New Jersey, where Alamo also has operations.
George Earl Johnson Jr., a spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, said his agency has been in touch with Arkansas but hasn’t received a formal request to pick up any children.
100-plus Alamo children missing
Authorities said dozens of children missing from Tony Alamo ministries in Fouke and Fort Smith, Ark., listed on a court order may be out of the reach of child welfare agencies if they’ve been taken across state lines.
Not a single child was found on Alamo properties in Fort Smith after officials with DHS and members of the Arkansas State Police searched more than a dozen sites Tuesday.
The orders authorizing removal listed many more children than the 20 taken Tuesday. The documents left at the Fouke compound referred to 126 children, some as “unknown” and others as “unknown juveniles.”
The order gave permission for a search of 20 Tony Alamo Ministries properties in Miller County located in Fouke and Texarkana.
“Whether authorities in other states can take action when there’s no evidence of neglect or abuse in their state is a big question,” said Miller County Circuit Judge Jim Hudson. “It may depend on the individual state’s laws.”
DHS spokeswoman Julie Munsell said child welfare agencies in Oklahoma, New Jersey and California, states where Alamo Ministries owns other properties, have been contacted.
Griffin noted that the parents and other adults living on Alamo Ministries properties in Fouke and Fort Smith were never served with the removal documents.
“I can’t accuse them of violating a court order,” said Griffin, the circuit judge randomly assigned to the case involving the 20 children DHS took this week.