Alamo case parents tell of fleeing to keep kids
FOUKE — Two days after their children were taken from them in a sweep of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries properties, church members opened the church in Fouke to reporters, denying that they had ever abused their children and saying the government is trying to destroy their church.
Speaking in the compound’s cafeteria on Thursday, the parents of 11 of the 20 children taken into state custody in Tuesday’s sweep played a video recording of the stop on Arkansas 245 in Texarkana in which police and Arkansas Department of Human Services caseworkers removed the children, some of them sobbing, from two sport utility vehicles that had been heading toward the Texas line.
Members of Tony Alamo Ministries Speak Out
The parents said their children had been taken away from homes where they were loved and happy, and they blamed the allegations of abuse on disgruntled ex-members.
“These people that are bringing these accusations are drug addicts and liars, and they are driven in their hearts to destroy Tony Alamo because they know in their hearts that if he’s right, then they’re going to hell, and eventually into the Lake of Fire, and people can’t live with that,” said Bert Krantz, whose six children were taken from him in the traffic stop.
Tuesday’s sweep followed a Sept. 20 raid on the compound by more than 100 federal and state police officers and Hu- man Services Department caseworkers investigating allegations that children had been physically and sexually abused at the compound. Six girls, ages 10 to 17, were taken during that raid and placed in foster homes.
Late Monday, judges in Sebastian and Miller counties issued orders finding that probable cause existed to believe that the children of other 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.
No children were found at the properties, but 17 were found during the stop on the highway. Three other boys were taken into custody at the Juvenile Court Center in Texarkana, where they had been attending a hearing on the custody status of four of the girls who were taken during the September raid.
The Human Services Department is continuing to search for other children who were missed in the sweep. The Miller County order covers more than 100 children belonging to 39 families, according to a part of the order provided by church members on Thursday. Some of the children’s names are listed as unknown.
Until Tuesday’s sweep, the Fouke compound had guards posted at its entrances, and members had repeatedly declined to speak with reporters. But on Thursday, members said they wanted to tell their side of the story.
In the cafeteria where the members spoke, the walls are lined with photographs of Tony and Susan Alamo and church gatherings and with letters from people saying they’ve been touched by the ministry. A letter from Arkansas Children’s Hospital in 2006 thanks the church for a $ 10, 000 donation.
Tables along the wall are stacked with religious tracts and newsletters. On a bookshelf are copies of Alamo’s book The Messiah in English and 14 other languages.
The members denied that the church is a cult and objected to the property being called a compound. They defended Alamo but stressed that they worship God — not their pastor.
In recent years, Alamo had spent most of his time preparing his radio broadcasts, and the services — held every evening and twice on Sundays — are usually led by members.
They said the guards who had been posted at church entrances were there for the children’s protection. After the sweep, they are no longer needed, members said.
They said their children eat four meals a day — at 8 a. m., noon, 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. — and attend school inside the compound. Boys and girls attend separate schools and are not allowed to play together. Men are also not allowed to socialize with women outside their families.
Members who live at the compound volunteer their services in jobs on the property. Lisa Thorne transcribed Alamo’s radio broadcasts. Parrish is a gardener, and his wife baby sits and is a substitute teacher.
Krantz said members can leave the church in pairs, which he said is so they will have a witness to protect them against false allegations. The church pays for members clothes, medical expenses and other needs. While most eat in the cafeteria, members also have food in their homes. When they need something, they can request it from the church or request money to buy it.
Judge tells parents: Trim Alamo ties, get 2 girls back
TEXARKANA — Two girls taken from Tony Alamo’s religious compound in southwest Arkansas can eventually be reunited with their parents if the parents sever some of their ties with the church, a judge ruled Friday.
The girls, ages 14 and 16, are among six taken from the compound in Fouke during a Sept. 20 raid by more than 100 state police officers, FBI agents and Arkansas Department of Human Services caseworkers investigating allegations of physical and sexual abuse. The girls were placed in foster homes.
During a hearing on the custody status of the two girls, Mary Helen Mitchell, an attorney for Human Services described the compound as a place where girls were at risk of sexual abuse and where seemingly minor rule infractions were punished with beatings.
In the case of the 14-year-old and 16-year-old, the department alleged that one of the girls had been beaten at the compound and the other had witnessed abuse, said Miller County Circuit Judge Jim Hudson, who presided over the hearing. The parents weren’t accused of abuse but of failing to protect and supervise their children.
In his ruling Friday evening, Hudson said the girls can eventually return to their parents if their parents meet certain conditions, such as moving off church property and establishing financial independence from the church. They can continue to attend services, however. A hearing will be held Feb. 14 on the parents’ progress.
After the hearing, parents tearfully hugged their daughters before leaving the Juvenile Court Center without commenting.
Alamo, the 74-year-old leader of a multistate ministry with headquarters in Fouke, was arrested in Arizona five days after the September raid on charges of transporting a girl across state lines for sexual purposes. Alamo’s attorney, John Wesley Hall Jr., has said the girl is a former church member who no longer lives in the state.
The girls taken into custody during the raid were found in the sprawling house where authorities have said Alamo lived with several women he took as “wives.” Alamo has denied having multiple wives.
Church members say Alamo’s quarters are on the second floor, and the rest of the house contains a recording studio, offices, classroom space for girls and rooms for visiting church members.
They say women live in the house but sleep in separate quarters.
According to the Gazette, a 14-year-old girl testified that she had lived in the house with Alamo and worked in the office.
She said that while she was in the shower about two years ago, a naked Alamo placed his hand on her mouth and touched her breasts and genitals.
The girl, who left the church in April, also testified that Alamo would deprive her of food for days at a time and that she was beaten by John Kolbeck, whom authorities have described as Alamo’s “enforcer.” An 18-year-old man, who left the church in May, also testified about being beaten by Kolbeck, who is wanted by Fort Smith police on a second-degree battery charge in the beating of a teenaged church member earlier this year.
Meanwhile, Hall indicated that the church won’t be able to provide attorneys for the parents of the 20 children taken into custody during a sweep of Alamo properties Tuesday.
In a letter Hall sent to the state Administrative Office of the Courts on Thursday, he said he had met with the parents and found it “quite obvious that none of them are going to be able to hire lawyers for this case, based on the legal fees expended in a pending case with six children still being heard.” Asked Friday why Alamo wouldn’t be providing attorneys for the parents, Hall said, “Perhaps he perceives that the state’s going to bleed him dry.” Connie Hickman-Tanner, the Administrative Office of the Court’s juvenile courts coordinator, said Friday that her office has arranged to have attorneys available for the parents of the 20 children at an initial hearing on whether the children should remain in foster homes.
Miller County Circuit Judge Joe Griffin could appoint attorneys for the parents if he finds them to be indigent.