Polygamist men cry during temple search

ELDORADO, Texas – When authorities moved to search the large white temple on the polygamist compound in West Texas, about five dozen of the sect’s men prayed and cried around the structure, state investigators said Thursday.

Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran also said he had been working with a confidential informant for four years who was feeding him information about life inside the polygamist sect.

Doran declined to say whether the informant was in Texas or other sect compounds in Utah or Arizona. It wasn’t until after the search had begun that Doran learned about marriage beds in the temple and the forced marriages of underage girls to older men.

“It was instrumental in teaching me the group’s ways,” Doran said.

But state authorities defended their decision to leave the sect alone for the four years it had encamped in West Texas.

“We are aware that this group is capable of (sexually abusing young girls),” Doran said. “But there again, this is the United States. We are going to respect them. We’re not going to violate their civil rights until we get an outcry. I’ve said that from day one.”

Texas Ranger Capt. Barry Caver said some of the 57 men near the wall were on their knees praying. Others sobbed. One resisted officers’ attempt to enter the area and was arrested.

When authorities finally gained entrance to the three-story building, no one was inside.

But on the top they found beds allegedly used by husbands after they married underage girls on the top floor of the temple.

He said authorities made the temple the last stop on the weeklong search because “if there was going to be any resistance at all it would be then.”

Caver also described the difficulties faced by child welfare officials in finding and removing all 416 children from the compound.

The children “were shuffled around houses as we were searching,” he said, noting that as soon as they saw children in one house, they would be quickly ushered to other houses.

Officials have left the compound and still have not identified the 16-year-old girl who called to report she had been beaten and raped by her husband.

“When you’re dealing with a culture like this, they’re taught from very (early) on that they don’t answer questions to the point,” Doran said. “And we may very well have her at Child Protective Services. All of that is certainly being sorted out right now.”

Sect’s temple used for sex

The discovery of the marriage beds in the temple was revealed Wednesday as troopers completed their search of the grounds of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Texas law prohibits polygamy and the marriage of girls under 16.

Court documents said a number of teen girls at the compound were pregnant, and all the children were removed on the grounds that they were in danger of “emotional, physical, and-or sexual abuse.”

Another 139 women left on their own.

On Wednesday, state officials said the women and children were in good overall health but would not comment on pregnancies. About a dozen children appear to have chicken pox but were being separated at the evacuation sites, which include an old historic fort and a convention center here, said Child Protective Services spokesman Chris Van Deusen.

Authorities were trying to determine the identities of many of the children; some were unwilling or unable to provide the names of their biological parents or identified multiple mothers.

During their search of the compound, agents found a bed in the temple with disturbed linens and what appeared to be a female hair, said the affidavit signed by Texas Ranger Leslie Brooks Long and unsealed Wednesday. The temple also contained multiple locked safes, vaults and desk drawers.

Tammy Harris, the executive director of the shelter that took the call from the 16-year-old girl, said Thursday the shelter called Child Protective Services and law enforcement as soon as workers determined that she had given birth at 15.

“This is a very overwhelming situation,” said Harris, who declined to give details of the calls made by the girl. “It is something that is new to most of us.”

Arrests and an outstanding warrant

Texas has an outstanding arrest warrant for the man alleged to have been the girl’s husband, Dale Barlow, 50. He’s a registered sex offender who pleaded no contest to conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor in Mohave County, Ariz., last year.

“I do not know this girl that they keep asking about,” Dale Barlow told the Deseret Morning News Wednesday night. “And I have not been to Texas since I was a young man back in 1977.”

Probation officials in Arizona indicate it’s unlikely Barlow has been in Texas recently. Barlow lives in Colorado City, Ariz., and has regularly checked in with his probation officer since Aug. 17.

Troopers arrested two other men over the week and charged them with interfering with the search.

The Texas investigation is the state’s first of FLDS members, but prosecutors in Utah and Arizona have pursued several church members in recent years, including sect leader Warren Jeffs. He is serving two consecutive sentences of five years to life for being an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old wed to her cousin in Utah. Jeffs awaits trial on other charges in Arizona.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday April 11, 2008.
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