Two girls from polygamist families safe in Phoenix
ST. GEORGE — Like many Colorado City girls, Flora Jessop said she was ordered at age 14 to marry a man with five wives.
Unlike most Colorado City girls, she ran away. She walked about 60 miles on foot across the desert, only to be found on the streets in St. George and returned to her father.
She would run four more times in the next four years, be locked up for three years, baptized nine times in public, sexually abused by her father, beaten repeatedly and mentally tortured.
“The reality is, when these kids are turned over, they pay dearly,” said Jessop, 33, who finally fled successfully in 1986. “Sometimes I wonder how I succeeded, too. Then I look around. I saw these kids. I succeeded so these kids don’t have to go through what I went through.”
This is true for the two most recent runaways, Fawn Broadbent and Fawn Holm. In the aftermath of the recent shakeup in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the two-16-year-olds fled in Jessop’s van on Sunday, for fear that the Prophet Warren Jeffs would order them to marry older men.
On Friday night, the girls received court orders from the Maricopa County Juvenile Court in Phoenix, protecting them from being returned to homes they no longer miss. With about 6,000 residents, Colorado City and its neighboring town, Hildale, are dominated by the FLDS church, an offshoot of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The FLDS church still teaches polygamy as a central tenet.
Jessop, now a well-known anti-polygamy activist in Phoenix, helped secure the documents after several days of intense negotiations with Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, Arizona State Sen. Linda Binder, R-District 3, and Child Protective Services.
“It’s taken us 17 years to get a court order protecting these kids,” said Jessop, who laughed and screamed at the news. “There are many more girls’ lives at stake than these two. If we fail, we are failing every child up there (in Colorado City).”
Goddard was unavailable for comment Friday afternoon. Binder said state officials are trying to protect the girls. Other girls to come will be treated the same way, she said.
“It’s an extreme circumstance,” Binder said. “I can’t imagine having a daughter being ordered to get dressed in 10 minutes, (and being told) ‘he’s going to rape you. You’re going to be his wife.’”
Runaways became rare after 1999, when Jessop’s sister Ruby, then 14, was returned to a forced marriage barely a week after she fled Colorado city. She lived in isolation for 35 days and has since been shunned and mentally tortured, Jessop said.
With Holm and Broadbent living in a secure, private safe house, she said, at least a dozen girls will follow suit. Like Holm, many women and children risk being “assigned” to other men after Jeffs ousted 21 men Saturday from the FLDS church, including Colorado City Mayor Dan Barlow.
Holm’s father, Carl William Holm, was also stripped of his priesthood, women and children and the right to live in town, according to a source who attended the meeting at the Leroy S. Johnson Meeting House.
The house cleaning, coming after months of an intensified power struggle between Jeffs and Colorado City’s Barlow dynasty, has set anti-polygamists and law enforcement officers on guard.
Since last Saturday, a deputy from Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith’s office has been patrolling Hildale. On Sunday morning, Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan deployed a squad, including four deputies and a canine unit, from Kingman to Colorado City. For as long as needed, Sheahan said, the armed, uniformed officers will patrol the town 24 hours a day as “a prevention measure.”
Facing talks of religious splits and eruption of violence, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has established a hotline (800) 897-5465, where help will be sent to victims. Shurtleff had said he would “do anything within my power” to ensure that no runaways were returned to their families against their will.
Paul Murphy, Shurtleff’s spokesman, said the operators, also receiving calls for domestic violence victims, were trained Friday to help runaways from Colorado City.
“Everybody’s concerned,” Murphy said. “I don’t think anybody is sleeping well right now.”
But for Broadbent, the worries were gone Friday night. Abused and beaten at home, she said she ran away five times. Even after she fled to a secure home in Phoenix, Broadbent said she still had nightmares.
“I was dreaming they could get me and I would never be able to get out again,” she said in a telephone interview from Phoenix. “I’m really happy, though.”
Fawn Holm, who ran away six times, said she doesn’t miss her family in Colorado City.
“All of a sudden I feel free — I don’t have to hide any more,” Holm said. “I’m just getting freer and freer. I feel more at peace. I don’t cry myself to (sleep).”