Documents: Sect Married Girls at Puberty
Wednesday, April 9, 2008; 2:23 AM
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 Tuesday also gave details about the hushed phone calls that
triggered the raid, 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, Child Protective Services spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner told reporters in San Angelo, about 40 miles from the compound in Eldorado.
Court documents said 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." Another 139 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, a Department of Family and Protective Services investigative supervisor.
McFadden said the girls were spiritually married to the men as soon as they reached puberty and were required to produce children.
Patrick Peranteau, lawyer for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Tuesday.
An unknown number of men and women church members were 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. Tela Mange, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety, said Tuesday the adults were not being held, but if they left the compound, they could not return while the search continued.
At least two FBI agents were seen entering the back entrance of the temple on Tuesday.
Spokesmen for the FBI and DPS declined to comment.
The compound was raided Thursday after the 16-year-old girl called a local family violence shelter March 29 and 30, using someone else's cell phone and speaking in hushed tones to avoid being overheard, McFadden's affidavit said.