Make that 464.
The count of FLDS children in Texas custody increased by one Tuesday after a female whose age is in dispute gave birth to a boy at a San Marcos, Texas, hospital.
Pamela Jeffs delivered a healthy boy around noon at Central Texas Medical Center, where she was brought by Texas Rangers and Child Protective Services. Her mother was allowed to attend the birth, said CPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins.
Other children in state custody continued to settle into group and foster homes across Texas and some mothers left the YFZ Ranch in hopes of being able to visit them.
Texas authorities removed the children from the ranch, owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, earlier this month. CPS said the children are at risk of physical, emotional and sexual abuse because the sect promotes underage and polygamous marriages.
Jeffs is one of 26 women CPS says is a minor – although a court document prepared by a state investigator lists her as 18. Attorney Rod Parker, an FLDS spokesman, also said Jeffs is 18.
“Her husband is 22 and they are a monogamous couple,” Parker said, noting the father “is being deprived of the opportunity to spend those first special moments with his son on a basis that makes no common sense. Infant babies are not going to be indoctrinated.”
The couple also have a 16-month-old son, who is being held at The Children’s Shelter in Austin.
Crimmins said Jeffs and her infant will be placed in a shelter together, assuring their safety. CPS has allowed mothers to remain with infants 12 months old or younger who are in state custody.
Crimmins said that all 26 females now deemed to be minors have children. CPS previously identified five teenagers who were 15 or 16 when they conceived a child.
Together, that means 31 of the 53 females ages 14 to 17 are pregnant, have children or both – a claim disputed again Tuesday by an FLDS spokesman.
“We feel these allegations are unfounded and designed to be inflammatory and we hope CPS will be held accountable to the public for such outrageous statements,” said Willie Jessop, a sect member.
Parker said that 40 women who went to a domestic violence shelter in San Angelo last week when officials said they could no longer stay with children older than age 1 have all returned to the ranch.
While CPS said Monday that all children are accounted for, one FLDS mother said she has been unable to learn where her 2-year-old son has been placed. He does not show up by name or birth date on CPS’ placement list, she said. He was born the same month, though a year earlier, than another toddler with the same first name – Mahonri.
Her son “has brown eyes and blond hair,” said the woman, who asked that her name not be used. “The other has blue eyes and sandy, thin hair. . . . My concern is they don’t have him listed as the right person or haven’t listed him at all.
“CPS told me they had my [son] at Baptist Children’s center,” she said. “The other mother got the same news, so that doesn’t really tell us what we need to know.”
Some lawyers representing children and mothers are brainstorming ways to speed up hearings for their clients or to challenge the children’s removal from their parents. Others are working to set up visits between mothers and children.
Texas Rio Grand Legal Aid attorney Mary Lou Alvarez said she still was working Tuesday to put her clients, who are mothers, in touch with CPS workers. While the state has provided a list of their names, she said, it did not include their phone numbers.
Alvarez said two children were discharged from the Shannon West Texas Memorial Hospital on Monday. An infant and its two siblings remain in the hospital with their mother, whom the treating doctor insisted be present for their medical care, she said.
Some women, Alvarez said, have left the YFZ Ranch and are headed to Texas cities where their children are in shelters or foster homes in anticipation of being able to visit them.
Some are checking into hotels, while others are staying with friends, she said. On Monday afternoon, a mini-van and full-size van full of women – some of whom concealed their faces from news cameras with sheets of paper – could be seen leaving the ranch. A truck followed, its bed packed with suitcases.
Eldorado pilot J.D. Doyle said between 60 and 80 people can usually be seen from the air working on the ranch during the day. On Tuesday, however, not a single person was out.
“It’s just barren,” he said.