Documents Offer Details On Practices At Ranch

By Sylvia Moreno
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 10, 2008

SAN ANGELO, Tex., April 9 -- An affidavit released Wednesday said Texas authorities found beds in the temple at the compound of a polygamous sect where men are believed to have had sex with their underage wives after they were united "spiritually."

One bed, according to the document, is used by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who "engage in the practice of marrying multiple wives" younger than 16. The affidavit also said the temple contains beds where "males over the age of 17 engage in sexual activity with female children under the age of 17."

In searches over the past week at the Yearning for Zion Ranch, which is owned and occupied by the church near Eldorado, authorities said a bed in the temple contained "disturbed" linens and a long strand of hair that appeared to be from a female head.

Texas Department of Public Safety investigator Leslie Brooks, who signed the affidavit, said he found a document indicating marriages between one man and more than 20 wives who resided at the compound as of August, "with no record of divorce or death of a spouse found."

Court documents released late Tuesday also said children at the ranch "are deprived of nutrition as a method of punishment, as well as being forced to sit in closed closets as a method of punishment." In a petition asking for a court order to remove the children from the compound, officials said a number of the children who were interviewed were not able to provide the names of their biological parents or such information as their birth dates or birthplaces.

"The Department is concerned about the possibility that some of these children have been denied a proper education," the petition said.

The documents are the latest filed in a case that began after several calls in late March to a family violence shelter from a 16-year-old who said she had been "spiritually" married to a man three times her age, forced to have sex and beaten, suffering broken ribs. She said she had an 8-month-old child and was several weeks pregnant. The calls, which were routed to a state child abuse hotline, set off the largest child-removal action in Texas history.

The children are among 416 removed from the West Texas compound in the past week. Texas health officials said Wednesday that in addition to a number of pregnancies among girls younger than 18, a dozen of the children have chickenpox.

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