Saturday, April 5, 2008

52 Children Removed from Polygamist Compound

Texas law enforcement removed 52 children from a West Texas ranch founded by Warren Jeffs, a convicted polygamist. They were responding to an accusation of sexual abuse on a 16-year-old female.

All 52 were female and eighteen of the children, ages 6 months to 17 years, were believed to have been abused or at risk of abuse. They were placed in foster care by Child Protective Services, said Darrell Azar, communications manager for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Thirty-four were taken to a nearby civic center for questioning, Mr. Azar said.

There were no immediate arrests. The 1,700-acre compound, the Yearning for Zion Ranch of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a breakaway Mormon sect, is located in Eldorado, about 160 miles northwest of San Antonio.

Mr. Azar said the girls were removed “because we had reason to believe they had been abused or were at immediate risk of future abuse.”

“We haven’t talked to any boys yet,” he said. “We will be interviewing boys, too.”

The ranch was built in 2003 by followers of Jeffs, who was sentenced last November in Utah to 10 years to life in prison for forcing a 14-year-old girl to marry her 19-year-old cousin and to submit to sexual relations against her will. Mr. Jeffs is in jail in Arizona awaiting trial on separate rape charges involving the arranged marriages of two teenage girls to older relatives.