ELDORADO – State officials have now removed 183 women and children from the YFZ Ranch in Schleicher County, but a group of sect members have refused to allow law enforcement access to the compound’s temple, local prosecutors say.
Citing their religious convictions that no nonbeliever should set foot inside the temple, a group of members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have rejected authorities’ requests to search the temple for a 16-year-old girl whose complaint triggered the massive, three-day raid, said Allison Palmer, who as first assistant 51st District attorney, would prosecute any felony crimes uncovered as part of the investigation inside the compound.
“Within the religion that we have encountered, their place of worship is very special to them,” she said Saturday. “It appears to be of great concern to them if a person from outside their congregation even attempts to step inside their place of worship.”
Palmer said if no agreement is reached, authorities will forcibly remove the sect’s followers “as peaceably as possible.”
“They don’t want to intrude on anyone’s sacred ground,” she said. “They just want to ensure the safety of children.”
Of the 183 people removed from the YFZ Ranch since Friday afternoon, 137 of them are children, said Marleigh Meisner, spokeswoman for the state’s Child Protective Services agency.
About 40 of the children are boys, Meisner said.
“They’re literally about halfway through” searching the ranch northeast of Eldorado for children, Meisner said.
So far, 18 girls have been placed in state custody. The state has located foster homes for them, Meisner said, although they remain with the other 119 children at a pair of Eldorado sites, undergoing interviews about their life inside the secretive compound.
Dozens of law enforcement and CPS officials swarmed the gated ranch Thursday night after receiving a phone call March 29 from a 16-year-old girl who said she was inside the compound and had given birth to a baby with her 50-year-old husband, Palmer said.
Dale Barlow, the subject of an arrest warrant issued Thursday, and identified as the girl’s husband, remains at large, Palmer said, and may be in Utah or Arizona.
“She didn’t use the term ‘forced into marriage,’ ” Palmer said. “She indicated that she was underage and had a (50)-year-old husband.”
It has not yet been determined whether the girl and her baby are among the 137 children removed from the ranch, making a search of the temple that much more necessary, Palmer said.
“Anytime someone says, ‘Don’t look here,’ it makes you concerned that’s exactly where you need to look,” she said.