Polygamist compound was rife with sex abuse, officials allege
ELDORADO, Texas - A polygamist compound with hundreds of children was rife with sexual abuse, child welfare officials allege in court documents, with girls spiritually married to much older men as soon as they reached puberty and boys groomed to perpetuate the cycle.
The documents released yesterday also gave details about the hushed phone calls that broke open the case, by a 16-year-old girl at the West Texas ranch who said her 50-year-old husband beat and raped her. Days after raiding the compound, officials still aren't sure where the girl is.
Officials have completed removing all 416 children from the ranch and have won custody of all of them, Marleigh Meisner, Child Protective Services spokeswoman, told reporters in San Angelo, about 40 miles from the compound in Eldorado.
Court documents said that a number of teen girls at the 1,700-acre compound were pregnant and that all the children were removed on the grounds that they were in danger of "emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse." One hundred thirty-nine women left on their own.
"Investigators determined that there is a widespread pattern and practice of the [Yearn for Zion] Ranch in which young, minor female residents are conditioned to expect and accept sexual activity with adult men at the ranch upon being spiritually married to them," read the affidavit signed by Lynn McFadden, an investigative supervisor at the Department of Family and Protective Services.
McFadden said the girls were spiritually married to the men as soon as they reached puberty and were required to produce children. An unknown number of men were being held at the ranch while authorities completed the search of the gleaming 80-foot-high temple, a cheese-making plant, a cement plant, a school, a doctor's office, and housing units.
Patrick Peranteau, the church's lawyer, did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment yesterday.
The compound was raided Thursday after the 16-year-old girl called a local family violence shelter on March 29 and 30, using someone else's cellphone and speaking in hushed tones to avoid being overheard, McFadden's affidavit said.
The girl said she was not allowed to leave the compound unless she was ill. She told the shelter that her husband would "beat and hurt" her when he got angry, including hitting her in the chest and choking her while another woman in the house held her baby.
The girl also said that her husband sexually assaulted her and that she was several weeks' pregnant. Authorities have issued an arrest warrant for church member Dale Barlow, who is believed to be in Arizona, but the girls' husband is not identified in the court documents released yesterday.
Meisner said the agency still didn't know whether the 16-year-old was among the children removed from the ranch. Child welfare officials have been interviewing the children in search of the girl and to investigate allegations of abuse.
Investigators said some of the children were unwilling or unable to provide the names of their biological parents or identified multiple mothers.
Former members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints predicted an uneasy adjustment to foster care. The children are probably the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of those taken by Arizona authorities 54 years ago in a similar raid.
That raid a half-century ago and the one this week pulled children of polygamist families from the only community and culture they'd ever known.
Most of the current sect members are descended from families from the Arizona-Utah community.