2 girls flee to avoid going back to polygamous town

Two teenage girls who fled a polygamous community about a month ago are on the run again — this time because they apparently fear Arizona authorities are attempting to reunite them with their families.

But the circumstances of the teens’ disappearance are murky. Arizona authorities have launched a police investigation and a pickup order for the girls, ages 16 and 17, whose names The Salt Lake Tribune is withholding because they are juveniles.

The girls disappeared sometime between Friday and Sunday — just after a Maricopa County Superior Court issued a “no contact” order against Flora Mae Jessop, an activist who had helped them flee their Colorado City families in mid-January.

Jessop had arranged for them to stay in a “safe house” in Phoenix while state officials sorted out the girls’ custody. Among the options: returning them to their families in Colorado City or placing them in foster care or with other relatives.

One girl’s brother, Carl John Holm, and his wife Joni, who live in Sandy have petitioned for custody of the girls. Holm left Colorado City, predominately made up of members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 23 years ago.

“The girls got wind they were being cut off from Flora and from us and being unified with their parents,” Joni Holm said. “So they ran. They do not want to go back.”

According to Joni Holm, the girls disappeared sometime early Sunday from a hotel room where they had stayed with Jessop after spending a few days riding horses at an Arizona ranch. Holm said her 18-year-old daughter, Megan Holm, is with the girls.

Megan Holm called her parents Sunday to let them know the girls are OK, but refused to reveal their whereabouts.

Letters purportedly written by the girls and left in their hotel said they didn’t want to go back to Colorado City and felt let down by Arizona Child Protective Services. Joni Holm said Monday she, too, is upset that the state has not acted swiftly enough to protect the girls’ interests.

The girls’ parents are saying much the same thing.

Rod Parker, a Salt Lake City attorney who is assisting the parents, said the girls failed to return to their temporary home Friday but were not reported missing until 9 p.m. Sunday.

“The state of Arizona needs to get off their backside and find these girls,” Parker said. “This idea of when you are dealing with polygamists that you can leave children in vulnerable situations with third parties who are not subject to the state’s control — that is not responsible and you can see the results here.”

Liz Barker, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Economic Security, issued a news release Monday saying, “CPS hopes to have the teenagers back in its care soon and to continue working to keep them safe.”

The statement called allegations that CPS was going to return the girls to their parents incorrect, but acknowledged that by law the agency is required to pursue family reunification along with other options.

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