ST. GEORGE — Investigators Tuesday identified and questioned a 17-year-old girl who was reportedly missing and rumored to be married to Warren Jeffs, prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Gary Engels, with the Mohave County Attorney’s Office, said although the girl was questioned and returned to her parents, the investigation into the allegations of the minor being married and missing for more than a year is still open. Officers will also continue to conduct welfare checks on the girl until her 18th birthday.
The girl’s parents live on the Mohave County side of the twin communities of Colorado City and Hildale, and Engels said Monday he had been authorized to look into the report, although the alleged call for help occurred in Washington County.
Suzanne Johnson, the sister of the 17-year-old girl, reported Nov. 11 to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office that her sister called Nov. 5 asking to be picked up, but Johnson hadn’t heard from her sister again. Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith said Friday that a deputy contacted the minor girl’s parents, who said she was fine and at home with them.
Johnson, who said she hadn’t seen her sister since just before her 16th birthday, said it was her mother who came over after the Nov. 5 call and said the 17-year-old had called her to say “never mind.”
Investigators followed up Tuesday on some initial contact made Monday by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Engels said. They brought Johnson along with them to make positive identification, he said, and it was as they were leaving the residence on an unsuccessful attempt that Johnson saw her sister driving by in a van.
Engels said officers stopped the van, at which time the girl was taken to the Washington County Children’s Justice Center for some questions.
Investigators asked the girl where she had been for the past year, to which she also replied she didn’t want to say, he said.
They also asked her if she was married and she said she did not want to say.
“I felt and the interviewers felt she was trying to hide something or protect someone, so the case is still open,” Engels said. “We’ll (continue) to do checks on her to make sure everything is okay.”
Sam Brower, a private investigator hired to find Jeffs, helped direct a lot of attention to what he felt was unresponsiveness from law enforcement upon the report of the missing girl. Brower said he was happy because the minor was safely found.
“The fact is that she’s okay, but it doesn’t change the fact that she was gone for 15 months. … It doesn’t change the fact that she called her sister and said she was married. … It doesn’t change the fact that she wanted to leave her situation. … It doesn’t change the fact that her sister was scared for her safety,” Brower said.
Brower said the ongoing investigation was a step in the right direction and he hoped officials learned that it is not good to set up boundaries.
Smith said deputies went to the parents’ residence Monday afternoon and at that time met a girl claiming to be the missing minor. However, because things were just getting started Smith couldn’t say anything Monday to the press about the identification or investigation efforts, he said.
Things had to be done quietly, so as to not frighten people and make them hide, Smith said.
The FLDS church is based in the twin communities of Hildale and Colorado City, often referred to as Short Creek. The church, which teaches polygamy as a basic tenet, constitutes the largest polygamist group in North America.
The FLDS church traces its roots to Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Since 1890, the LDS church officially abolished plural marriage and members practicing polygamy have been excommunicated and barred from LDS temples.