Once again, Fawn Holm is on the run.
Nearly two years after a furtive departure from a polygamous community on the Utah-Arizona border made her a poster child for anti-polygamist activists, Holm has fled in search of a normal life.
She is not pregnant. She is not married – as either a first or plural wife, as some have claimed. She has not “given up on her new life,” as one television station stated, to rejoin her old one as a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or any other polygamous group.
“I’m just living my life and I’m working,” Holm said in a telephone interview from St. George. “I’m just me.”
Holm, 18, said she recently bolted from her brother’s home in Sandy for the most standard of teenage reasons: a desire to make her own decisions and because she didn’t want to abide by anyone’s rules but her own, not those laid down by guardians or fanatical religious leaders.
The past months also left her sick of “trying to be somebody else so that everyone else would be proud of me. I just felt like I was trying to embellish things to fit in,” Holm said.
Holm and Fawn Broadbent – “The Fawns,” as they became known – left their homes in the FLDS stronghold of Colorado City in January 2004 with the help of anti-polygamy activist Flora Jessop. Jessop picked them up in a nearby community under cover of darkness as a Phoenix television reporter filmed the escape.
The girls, both then 16, said they had been physically and emotionally abused at home and feared being married off to older men in the FLDS community. The FLDS faith, which counts some 8,000 or some followers, follows a 19th century version of Mormonism that includes plural marriage, which was rejected by the mainstream Mormon church in 1890.
Much was made of both girls’ lack of education, though the teens said it had been their decision to quit school around eighth grade – a point also made by their parents, who described them as rebels who “didn’t want to take responsibility, to be accountable,” as one father put it. The parents also disputed allegations of abuse and that the girls were soon to be wed.
A legal custody battle began in the Arizona courts but when it appeared the girls might be returned home or put in foster care, they went into hiding. They spent nearly two months bouncing between “safe homes” before getting approval from their parents to live with Carl and Joni Holm in Sandy. (Carl Holm is Fawn Holm’s older brother and left the FLDS community decades ago.)
By then, the girls were media darlings. They went from the pages of Teen Vogue to the television couch of Dr. Phil, who arranged intensive counseling for them last spring with a brainwashing expert.
At the time, Joni Holm said the girls were struggling with their decision to leave their old lives.
Still, Fawn Holm seemed to be settling in – and even stepping out as an activist. This summer, she penned an opinion piece for The Arizona Republic that called out FLDS members who criticized her efforts to speak about abuse in the community.
“I am not trying to run away from the pain by working myself to death or partying with drugs and alcohol,” she wrote. “You can only run so long.”
Then, Holm did exactly that. About three weeks ago, she vanished shortly after finishing her morning chores, leaving behind what Joni Holm describes as a “seventh-grade note” explaining her decision.
“It took us off guard. We didn’t see it coming,” said Joni Holm, who sounds much like the girl’s parents did two years ago as she recounts the teen’s disdain for house rules.
“I am sad for her because I believe this girl still needs intense counseling,” Joni Holm said. “My hope for Fawn is that she not join a marriage, that she finish her education and just be a good person in society.”
Meantime, she said, Fawn Broadbent is flourishing in the Sandy home.
Joni Holm and others lamented Fawn Holm’s departure in news stories, e-mails and in online blogs, saying the teen had rejoined polygamy and held out her case as an example of how difficult it can be to forsake the lifestyle.
Not true, Fawn Holm said.
She is staying with a niece who is married, religiously but not legally, to Doug Cooke, an ex-member of the FLDS community. Over the years, Cooke has provided shelter and jobs in his tile-setting company for teens, mostly boys, who have left the FLDS cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
Cooke said he is not a polygamist but acknowledges he is separated but not legally divorced from his first wife. He also said he is not a follower of Canadian polygamist Winston Blackmore, though Blackmore conducted Cooke’s second wedding and Cooke attended some of his group’s gatherings in the past.
“I’m in nobody’s group. Everyone needs to mind their own business and stop telling stories that aren’t true,” Cooke said. Fawn “is sick of it and everybody’s sick of it.”
Holm said she relocated to St. George for simple reasons: to be near her niece and other outcast siblings who live there. She has visited her parents once in Colorado City; they were receptive, but reserved.
“They still think I’m going to come home, and that’s kind of sad,” she said.
“There is no way I would ever do that. I know better than that. I know [the FLDS faith] is a cult and I wouldn’t go back to it.”
She admits to her rebellious streak, to her desire to find her own path in life. “I’m not the rules-and-regulations girl,” Holm said.
For now, she is working part time for Cooke and picking up baby-sitting jobs. She is attending a GED class in order to get her high school degree. She has a boyfriend.
“I’m trying to live life the best I can,” said Holm. “It’s just a wait and see kind of thing.”