180 taken from polygamist sect compound in Texas

Authorities removed more than 180 women and children from the Texas compound of a polygamist sect on Saturday evening after receiving reports of “sexual and physical abuse”.

Fears of a Waco-style confrontation were averted when leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints allowed authorities to enter the 700ha property to conduct a search.

“There were some tense moments last night, but everything has remained calm and peaceful and they are continuing their search,” prosecutor Allison Palmer said on Sunday.

The 10 000-member Mormon group is led by Warren Jeffs, who was convicted in Utah last year on two counts of accomplice to rape. He awaits trial in Arizona on eight charges of sexual conduct with a minor, incest and conspiracy.

Law-enforcement officers in Eldorado, Texas, were acting on a report filed by a 16-year-old girl last week.
She alleged that she had been abused by Dale Barlow (50). Authorities were searching for evidence of a marriage between Barlow and the girl, who reportedly had a baby when she was 15. Under Texas law, girls cannot marry under the age of 16.

Some of the women were taken to a civic centre where they were seen being interviewed by detectives. Palmer said investigators were still trying to determine whether the girl who made the report was among those removed from the compound.

The search warrant instructed officers to look for marriage records or other evidence linking her to the man and the baby. The warrant authorised the seizure of computer drives, CDs, DVDs or photos.

Barlow, who was convicted last year in Arizona of conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor, told his probation officer that he did not know the girl.

Eighteen of the girls, who the state believes “had been abused or were at immediate risk of future abuse”, were taken into state custody, according to a spokesperson for Child Protective Services. About 40 of those removed from the compound were boys.

“We’re trying to find out if they’re safe,” a spokesperson said. “We need to know if they have been abused or neglected.” The compound, known as the Yearning for Zion ranch, after a song written by Jeffs, is 6,4km outside the small Texas town of Eldorado, 320km north-west of San Antonio.

Formerly an exotic game ranch, the compound is dominated by a 24m-high white temple. It also has a dairy, housing and its own water-treatment plant.

Jeffs assumed the leadership of the sect from his late father in 2002. The group split from the Mormon church more than a century ago. It openly practises polygamy in two neighbouring communities in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona.—guardian.co.uk Â

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