COLORADO CITY, Ariz. — Social workers, law enforcement officers and victims’ rights groups are bracing for an influx of women and children from two polygamous communities on the Utah-Arizona line — though they are unsure whether the rumored exodus will occur.
Service providers will huddle today in St. George to coordinate their efforts in case residents flee Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., en masse to escape the escalating tensions in the wake of a shake-up among members of the polygamous sect that dominates the towns.
“The main thing will be safety and protection,” said Lynda Whitlock, executive director of the DOVE Center, a shelter for abused women in St. George. “We’re not only interfering with culture here but with a way of life, and I’m sure the men don’t want to let go of that.”
Most residents in the border towns at the base of the Cannan Mountains belong to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, whose leader this past weekend stripped 20 prominent male members of their wives, children and church membership.
FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs also ordered the men — including former Mayor Dan Barlow, who resigned this week and reportedly went into hiding in St. George — to leave town.
Whitlock said the DOVE Center provides services to any woman who escapes abusive situations. It also educates them about abuse and counsels them for up to 30 days. She said the center has room for some women and men. But if large numbers show up, the center would need more space and staff.
An Arizona official is expected to attend today’s meeting and offer financial aid from a victim-assistance fund to fleeing residents. Officials from the St. George Police Department, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and the Utah Division of Child and Family Services also will be on hand.
Meanwhile, the mood in Colorado City was decidedly somber and guarded toward interlopers Thursday. Not even cashiers at the Cooperative Mercantile, usually chatty with visitors, would speak or make eye contact.
“They’ve all been told not to talk,” said Cyril Bradshaw, a retired Colorado City teacher who challenged the church’s common property rules after he left the polygamous sect.
Despite that public silence, rumors were flying in the region about an exodus of residents to Canada to join a polygamous community in British Columbia. At least a few residents — including two 16-year-old girls who said they fled to Phoenix because they were about to be married off — already have left.
Mohave County (Ariz.) Supervisor Buster Johnson said talk was circulating that Winston Blackmore, Canadian leader of the FLDS Church, would be coming to Colorado City to lead U.S. polygamists north of the border. However, Johnson said, Blackmore has not shown up.
Johnson added that he has received e-mails from some FLDS members saying they would like Louis Barlow — Dan’s older brother — to take over from Warren Jeffs, who became leader after the death of his father, Rulon Jeffs, in 2002.
Copies of an anonymous letter — purportedly written by a “young man” — were circulating in Hildale and Colorado City this week. The letter — postmarked with U.S. Postal Permit 014, Colorado City, Ariz., 86021 — tells of a revelation calling for Louis Barlow to become FLDS prophet.
The writer of the letter, which was full of misspellings, claimed that late prophet John Y. Barlow spoke to him.
“The prophet then instructed me to look and I beheld a great meeting of men and I beheld the prophet Rulon Jeffs in glowing glory before me and I beheld the mantle of the prophet pass onto the pure blood of John Y. Barlow, Louis Barlow, did recieve [sic] the mantle and that hiw [sic] being was filled with wisdom and words of God.”
Pam Black, who grew up in the polygamous community and now lives just outside Hildale, said the Barlows have been waiting to put Louis Barlow in control for 20 years. She doubts that the family will step aside quietly.
“It’ll be a miracle,” Black said, “if these men truly obey this fanatical prophet [Warren Jeffs].”