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400 Children Removed From Sect's Texas Ranch

Video
Authorities in Texas say they are looking for a teenager whose complaint led to the removal of women and children from a polygamist compound. The girl claims she had a baby at 15 and is married to a 50-year-old man. Video by AP

Last year's trial of Warren Jeffs, a polygamist reputed to have dozens of wives, opened a window onto rituals of the sect, which included multiple marriages for men, often with teenage girls.

A jury convicted Jeffs of being an accessory to rape after a 14-year-old girl was pushed into marriage against her will with her 19-year-old cousin. Jeffs is serving two terms of five years to life while awaiting trial on other charges connected to the marriage of underage girls to older relatives.

"Once you go into the compound, you don't ever leave it," Carolyn Jessop, a wife of the alleged leader of the Eldorado clan, told the Associated Press. Jessop, who took her eight children and left the group before it decamped for Texas, said the women were intentionally isolated from the outside world.

"They have no concept of mainstream society, and their mothers were born into it and have no concept of mainstream culture," said Jessop, 40. "Their grandmothers were born into it."

At the compound, a former exotic-animal ranch acquired by the sect in 2003 for $700,000, members built residences, tilled gardens and baked bread while trucking groceries in from outside, only rarely venturing into Eldorado.

State troopers serving the search warrant were looking for a 50-year-old man, identified by the teenage caller as her husband, as well as any records pointing to their marriage. She told authorities that she had a baby with her.

Authorities who staged the raid did not know what to expect, mobilizing child-welfare caseworkers and police investigators alike. A helicopter was used for airborne surveillance, and a SWAT team was used to raid the sect's temple, according to filings by Isaac Jeffs and Merrill Jessop.

The 50-year-old man's parole officer told local reporters that the man was in Arizona and had never heard of the girl. The only person arrested at the ranch was a resident who police said had interfered with their operation.


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