Police leave Texas polygamist ranch, investigation ongoing

Authorities have wrapped up their search of a polygamist compound in West Texas, but said an investigation continues into allegations of sexual abuse within the religious sect.

“We are off of the property and I believe they have resumed their everyday normal course out there,” said Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran during a news conference Thursday in San Angelo, Texas.

Doran said two people were arrested and released on bond for interfering with the week-long search, which started last Thursday after reports a 15-year-old girl married and had a child with a 50-year-old man. Such a marriage would be illegal under Texas law, which prohibits girls under age 16 to marry, even with parental approval.

Police moved onto the 700-hectare compound in the small Texas town of Eldorado, removing 139 women and teenage girls and 416 children. Unconfirmed reports say some of the women and girls are pregnant.

Court documents revealed Wednesday that authorities found a bed in the compound’s limestone temple that state prosecutors allege was used by adult male members to have sex with their underage wives after they were married by the sect. The temple also contained multiple locked safes, vaults and desk drawers.

Lawyers for the sect have agreed to the appointment of a “special master” to sift through evidence taken from the ranch that could be prohibited from being used in court for religious reasons. The special master will vet what is expected to be hundreds of boxes of records, computers and even family Bibles.

State investigators said about five dozen of the sect’s men prayed and cried on their knees around the temple as it was being searched.

Texas Ranger Capt. Barry Caver also described the difficulties faced by child welfare officials in removing the children, who he said “were shuffled around houses as we were searching.”

Police have informant

Doran also confirmed he has had an informant within the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for the past four years. The breakaway sect of the Mormon church includes followers in the U.S. and Canada.

“This person is here to assist us with whatever we need. I’m not going to go into details if the informant was on this property, if they were in Utah, or Arizona or Canada, where have you. I’ll just say ‘yes’ I have had an informant,” he said.

The police raid was sparked by a call from a girl to a family violence shelter last Thursday. The girl, who is now 16, said she had a child with her 50-year-old husband, who she said beat and hurt her. Officials say the girl still has not been located.

“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.”

Court documents said that the children were removed from the compound, known as the YFZ Ranch, because they were in danger of “emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse.” Authorities were trying to identify the parentage of the children.

The community is part of a sect run by jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs that broke away from the Mormons after the latter disavowed polygamy more than a century ago. The sect includes about 1,000 followers in the religious community of Bountiful, B.C.

Jeffs is in jail in Arizona, where he is awaiting a second trial on charges of incest and sexual conduct with a minor.

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