SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A 13-year-old girl who had been removed from an apocalyptic sect in northeastern New Mexico was released from state custody and eventually could move back to the group’s compound.
The girl, known as Willow, was released to her parents Tuesday, said Romaine Serna, spokeswoman for the state Children, Youth and Families Department.
Serna said agency workers ”believe that the parents are committed to keeping their child safe.”
The sect’s leader, Wayne Bent — who calls himself Michael Travesser — celebrated by ending a fast he said he began on June 6 to protest Willow’s absence.
A video posted on the Web site of The Lord Our Righteousness Church showed Bent eating lunch with Willow and her parents. The video showed the girl being embraced by Bent and other church members as she arrived at Strong City, as sect members call their community.
Willow, another girl and a boy were removed in late April from the compound in a remote ranching area near the New Mexico-Colorado line.
Bent, 67, has since been indicted for sex crimes against two young female followers. Willow was not one of them. Bent is free pending an arraignment in state district court.
Bent’s son, Jeff Bent, said Willow will live with her father, who has moved to a ranch about 20 miles away from the compound. Her mother remains at Strong City.
Jeff Bent said that arrangement would continue for the summer, after which Willow could return to Strong City if she wanted.
Serna acknowledged that Willow could end up back at Strong City.
”Should her parents believe they can maintain her safely at the compound, they may in fact do so. … We were assured that this child would be safe,” Serna said.
Serna said the boy who was removed from the compound is with his parents in another state and the New Mexico agency is no longer involved. The other girl who was removed remains in foster care, and the agency is working with the girl and her parents, Serna said.
The district attorney initially brought charges against Wayne Bent in magistrate court in the cases of three girls who had told authorities they ”lay naked” with Bent, who claims to be the Messiah.
Wayne Bent has denied any molestation occurred.
When District Attorney Donald Gallegos took the case to a grand jury, he presented evidence in the cases of only two of the girls.
Wayne Bent was indicted on two counts of criminal sexual contact of a minor and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The case is pending.
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