ST. GEORGE, UTAH – Carla Holm said she was one of the lucky ones when she ran away to Seattle from her polygamist household in Colorado City, Ariz., at age 15 in 1996.
Holm said she eventually was able to make it on her own. She even earned a high school degree two years ago.
But more typical, Holm said, was the plight of her three teenage cousins. They all fled their surroundings six months ago, couldn’t make it elsewhere and were all forcibly married within a week upon their return.
Holm said Friday during the first polygamy summit of Arizona, Utah and Canadian law enforcement officials and elected leaders that more safe havens are needed to keep the teens who choose to leave off drugs and off the streets.
During a two-hour meeting behind closed doors, the officials discussed a wealth of subjects concerning Colorado City and neighboring Hildale, Utah, including child safety and sex abuse, potential legislation, penalties for bigamy, welfare and school district fraud and certification of police officers in the two communities.
“Maybe we can’t make the border go away, but with (cooperation in) law enforcement we can make it more invisible,” Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said after the meeting.
Goddard said he couldn’t discuss details of the meeting but there were some “poignant questions raised about serving (Arizona) subpoenas in Utah.”
State Sen. Linda Binder, R-Lake Havasu City, said discussion of child abuse and welfare fraud dominated the discussions and questioned why, with both states facing huge budget deficits, “those people are sitting up there like kings . . . with their abuse of the government and the system.”
Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson, whose district includes Colorado City, said he was depressed after attending the closed-door session.
Johnson said he was “running out of patience” with Arizona’s enforcing its anti-polygamy statutes.
“I guess everyone is just all buddy-buddy having known each other for 20, 30, 40 years,” Johnson said, referring to relations between Mohave County government and Colorado City officials.
Before the meetings began, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said he was concerned about law enforcement and education issues in the two polygamist towns.
Shurtleff also said that since leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pulled the sect’s children from Colorado City public schools two years ago and began home schooling them, instruction in science has been limited and teaching “revisionist history” has been a problem.
But Sally Stubbs, a longtime Colorado City resident, said that is the least of her problems.
Stubbs said she has had seven sons run out of town when they were in their late teens because of the competition for young girls among polygamist patriarchs. Most of her sons ended up in Anchorage, Alaska, Stubbs said.
“The young men just get kicked out. First, the priesthood says they have to go and then the fathers say they have to go,” Stubbs said. “They are harassed and driven out.”
Bob Curran, director of the anti-polygamy group Help the Child Brides here, was booed and interrupted by nearly 100 polygamist wives who attended an open forum when he said sexual abuse was prevalent in virtually every home in Hildale.
“No, no, no,” many of the women shouted.
“You won’t listen to our men,” yelled another women, who refused to be identified.
Ben Bistline, 72, a longtime Colorado City resident and historian, said he was surprised by the large number of polygamist women at the summit and how vocal they were.
“They are worried that there is going to be another big raid,” Bistline said, referring to Arizona’s 1953 raid and arrests of the male leaders of the community, which then was known as Short Creek. “It was interesting that none of the men came. I guess they were afraid of getting ridiculed. Or, of getting arrested.”