Fawn Broadbent was shocked at how little the girls wore. Short skirts. Low-cut shirts. Spaghetti straps.
Fawn arrived for her first day of high school in the fall of 2004 in a baggy, long-sleeved pullover and her favorite pair of jeans. But she might as well be wearing the long dresses she left behind in Colorado City.
Now living in a suburb of Salt Lake City, high school was the new start in Fawn’s life. No more running or hiding. The problem now, Fawn discovered, was fitting in.
Over the summer, Fawn tested at the fifth-grade level in a placement exam. She could barely read. She had never taken science. She’d been taught dinosaurs did not exist and the moon landing was a hoax. But because of her age, she entered high school as a junior.
Fawn made her way down the crowded halls to the small classroom listed on her schedule. When class started, the students were asked to introduce themselves. Fawn said her name. She said she grew up in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints where men had multiple wives and teenage girls were forced to marry. And that was why she ran away.
. . .
Fawn and her friend from Colorado City, Fawn Holm, now shared an unfinished room in the basement of a home in Sandy, Utah. Fawn Holm’s older brother, Carl, and his wife, Joni, had offered to take them in after they ran away.
The Holms had two teenage daughters still at home and were members of the mainstream Mormon church. After the courts and the girls’ parents finally agreed they could live with the Holms, Fawn was swept up in a new kind of family life. Fawn shared dinner every night with the family and went to youth events organized by the local Mormon ward. That first summer, there were backyard barbecues and family camping trips. In the fall, after school and dinner, the Holms gathered in the living room to watch television and talk about their days.
Fawn was touched by how they included her, how everyone talked, laughed, cried, yelled and goofed off together. Sometimes, when things got too loud, Fawn went out to the backyard to get away.
As the girls settled in and school began, Carl thought his sister seemed depressed. And he noticed how Fawn clung to Joni: doing all the housework with her, going on errands.
Carl knew what the girls had been through. He grew up in the same strict religion while living in Salt Lake City. He met Joni at a doughnut shop, and they fell in love. She was 19, he just 17. They lied and told his parents she was pregnant so they could marry. And Carl was free.
Fawn missed her mother and little brothers and sisters terribly. On bad days, she believed leaving them was wrong.
She studied hours every night to catch up in school, but was too embarrassed to ask questions in class. She was scared of the boys and didn’t know what to talk about with other girls. At school, she and Fawn Holm ate lunch by themselves. At night in their room, the girls talked about whether they’d made a mistake.
By October, Carl was very concerned about the girls’ mental state. He would have gotten them therapy but didn’t have the money.
One day when Carl came home from work, he found the girls in the living room watching the Dr. Phil show. They watched it every day after school and seemed to like how the TV therapist dished out advice to average people who came on his show. Desperate to help the girls, Carl e-mailed Dr. Phil McGraw. Weeks went by. He e-mailed again. And then a response: Dr. Phil wanted them to come to Los Angeles after the holidays and be on his show.
Fawn was excited to meet the talk-show host, but terrified about talking in front of an audience. Just look at us and you’ll be fine, Joni told her.
. . .
On Christmas morning, Joni and Carl’s whole family gathered at the house. Fawn had her own ornament on the tree: a little snowman with her name on it. Presents filled the living room, more than Fawn had ever seen.
This was Fawn’s first real Christmas because they didn’t celebrate the holiday in Colorado City.
Even before Christmas morning, the holiday spirit had washed over Fawn. Knowing money was tight for the Holms, men in their Mormon ward built a new bathroom in the basement and women made each girl a quilt.
Now, everyone waited as the presents were passed out and opened. Fawn opened one present after another. Earrings. Clothes. Clogs. Everybody was laughing and happy. So was Fawn.
. . .
Sitting next to Dr. Phil under the bright lights of the television set, Fawn thought the heavy orange makeup made his skin look like clay.
As the audience stared up at her, Fawn looked down at her hands.
Dr. Phil said today’s show would expose the bizarre world of a religious sect in Arizona. The lights dimmed. The voice of Warren Jeffs boomed across the stage. The prophet! Fawn jumped up, but Dr. Phil grabbed her. It’s just a recording, he said.
The flight from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles in February to film the show was Fawn’s first trip on an airplane. Afraid of heights, she hid her face in a magazine.
As Dr. Phil asked questions, Fawn spoke slowly about life in Colorado City, how she missed her family and how she believed she would go to hell.
“I need to know it is worth it, all the pain,” she said, dabbing tears from her eyes and smearing her own heavy makeup. “You feel like there is no hope. Why go on?”
Dr. Phil said he wasn’t a preacher. But he knew God was a loving God, especially to children.
Then Dr. Phil announced he had arranged for four days of intensive counseling for the girls in Boston with a cult expert. The studio audience applauded.
. . .
Back from counseling in the spring of 2005, Fawn no longer thought of going back to Colorado City or felt paralyzed by fear around strangers. Her hard work at school was paying off. But she felt like she and Fawn Holm were growing apart.
Fawn made the honor roll. She was named Student of the Month. When report cards came out, Fawn proudly showed hers to Joni. Fawn Holm accused her of showing her up.
The tension between the girls continued through the summer. Fawn Holm fought with her brother and his wife and spent much of her time alone in the basement room.
By the time school started again in the fall, the girls barely spoke to each other. Fawn focused on graduating. She talked about college, maybe even law school. She wanted to help lost kids like herself.
. . .
On a Sunday morning in October, Joni and Fawn went to church. When they returned, Fawn Holm was gone.
They found a note. “It’s me, the idiot that can’t ever change,” Fawn Holm wrote. She said she was sick of fighting and felt like she didn’t belong.
Fawn was frantic. They had to find her.
They drove around town for hours searching. The movie theater, the park, the train station. Fawn jumped out of the car to ask strangers if they’d seen her friend.
Back home, Fawn went downstairs to their room, stunned. They had made a pact never to run without talking first.
Fawn began taking down pictures she’d stuck on the wall. She couldn’t stop crying. She’d have to leave, too. But where?
She heard a knock on the door. Carl stepped in.
“You are more than welcome to stay here as long as you need,” Carl said. “We’d like you to stay.”
. . .
As the spring of her senior year went on, Fawn felt like there were never enough hours in the day. She needed to complete four years’ worth of credit in just two years in order to graduate. She worked on home-study packets but was still two credits short.
In May, Fawn was named the most-improved student in the entire school district. At the awards banquet, Joni pleaded with school officials to let Fawn graduate with her class. They refused to bend the rules.
Fawn went to the June graduation with the Holms. When they opened the program, Fawn’s name was listed. She would have graduated with honors. Taking pictures of the Holms’ daughter, Melissa, the family, her friends, Fawn wiped away tears.
That summer, she cleaned rooms at a local inn and took baby-sitting jobs. She seldom worked on the home-study packets.
In August, representatives of the Dr. Phil show called. They wanted to have the girls back for a follow-up show. Carl told them Fawn was doing great, but he was worried about his sister. Fawn Holm was in St. George. They heard rumors: She was drinking, addicted to crack, living with polygamists. The Dr. Phil show staged an intervention at the Holms’ house and paid to send Fawn Holm to a clinic in Massachusetts.
A few weeks later, Fawn went back to Los Angeles. As the cameras rolled, a woman came on stage from Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. She presented Fawn with a full-tuition scholarship.
Fawn was overwhelmed. Maybe her dreams of going to college weren’t out of reach.
. . .
Fawn and her date walked through the exhibits of giant fossils, replicas of a brachiosaurus and other extinct creatures, talking about all those things they had been taught in Colorado City that were wrong. Like about dinosaurs and the evils of the outside world.
It was Fawn’s first real date with Steven Bateman, a young man who left Colorado City about eight months after Fawn. They hadn’t seen each other since they were kids, until a dinner in September for Colorado City runaways.
Back home, Steve had been one of Warren Jeffs‘ teenage missionaries. Then he fell in love with a 17-year-old girl. They ran away to Salt Lake City, but her parents brought her back. Steve was banished. He told his girlfriend he would come back for her when she turned 18. But by then she was already married to another man.
Steve was a year and a half older then Fawn. He worked at a dental-products plant. Fawn envied his confidence.
In high school, Fawn found it tough to talk to boys. She was 19 and had never been on a date. But Steve understood her in a way she didn’t think anyone else ever could.
Throughout the fall, Fawn and Steve hung out as friends. The trip to the dinosaur museum in December 2006 was their first real date. Afterward, he took her to a steak dinner.
Over the next several months, their relationship grew more serious and Fawn spent all her free time with Steve. Joni didn’t approve. Fawn had a college scholarship waiting for her. Plus, Joni didn’t trust Steve. He’d been too much of a believer. His father was in jail for taking a 17-year-old girl as his second wife. Steve defended him and polygamy.
. . .
Fawn adjusted the microphone and stared down at the papers before her, trying not to look up at the audience.
She didn’t expect so many people. When the Utah Attorney General’s Office asked her to speak as part of a Town Hall meeting on polygamy in April, Fawn thought there would be a dozen people. There were a couple of hundred, and they were all staring, waiting to hear her story.
Over the past year, Fawn had been going with Joni to meetings organized by Arizona and Utah officials designed to help families in the polygamist communities. Fawn would speak about her experiences.
Now that she and Steve were dating, she went to fewer meetings. The couple talked about having a life together, about putting Colorado City behind them. Fawn looked at the Town Hall meeting as perhaps her last public stance against Warren Jeffs’ sect.
Facing the crowd, Fawn talked about growing up in Colorado City, the lack of education, running away. She talked about how hard it was to fit in.
After the speech, a young woman approached Fawn and said she wanted to thank her. The woman heard about Fawn while living in another polygamist group. Fawn’s story gave her the courage to run away.
Fawn didn’t know what to say. Maybe she had made a difference.
The woman smiled and disappeared into the crowd.
. . .
In July, Fawn and Steve decided to move in together.
When Fawn told Joni and Carl, they were very upset. Fawn had been baptized and was now a member of the Mormon Church. They should be married to live together. And what about her college scholarship?
Fawn told them she could go to college anytime. She was ready to start her life with Steve.
The couple found a small apartment in Midvale, about 10 minutes away from Joni and Carl. Fawn packed up her clothes and took her pictures off the wall of the basement bedroom. Now, the room would go to another Colorado City runaway, a teenage boy who Joni and Carl had recently taken in.
Steve borrowed a truck and brought it to load up Fawn’s things. They found two used couches and a television on the Internet. Joni and Carl, trying to show Fawn support, gave them pots, pans and kitchen utensils.
At her new apartment, Fawn was struck by how quiet it was, how austere without the clutter of a large family.
She cooked dinner for her and Steve, learning some of her mother’s recipes she missed from Colorado City.
Money was tight, so in September she took a full-time job at Wal-Mart.
She dreams of owning a house and a sport utility vehicle. She and Steve plan on starting a family.