Hildale and Colorado City worry over Texas raid

Published: Saturday, April 5 2008 12:37 a.m. MDT

Through whispers and phone calls, the news of the raid on the YFZ Ranch is spreading through the Fundamentalist LDS strongholds of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

"Everybody's talking about it," said ex-FLDS member Isaac Wyler, who lives in the border towns.

As he drove through the towns formerly known as "Short Creek" on Friday, Wyler told the Deseret Morning News he was watching a flurry of activity. Outside an FLDS-run private school, he said dozens of cars were parked there.

"I'm sure everybody's having little meetings," he said.

Reminiscent of the infamous 1953 raid on Short Creek, where polygamists were rounded up and put in jail and their children put in foster care, people on both sides of the polygamy debate were worried about the impact of this latest action in Texas.

"It seems like a huge, massive step for law enforcement to come in like that and raid this community," said Mary Batchelor of the pro-polygamy group Principle Voices. "It's terrifying."

Ross Chatwin, another ex-FLDS member, feared the Texas raid would serve to further entrench and isolate the FLDS from the outside world.

"Warren (Jeffs) and the leaders, they're wanting something like this to happen so they can fullfil a prophecy that it will turn into another Nauvoo or '53 raid," he said. "My biggest fear is we're playing right into their hands."

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff also worried about how FLDS faithful would perceive the Texas raid. In an interview with the Deseret Morning News on Friday, Shurtleff said, "Heavens no!" he would not raid Hildale and Colorado City.

"We have no evidence that there are more child victims (in Utah) since Warren Jeffs disappeared," Shurtleff said. "The difference between the two places is Colorado City and Hildale have been opened up. They know they've been under scrutiny. In Eldorado, they were in a compound and feeling pretty secure."

Ironically, Shurtleff was in Texas last month at a speaking engagement on polygamy. He spoke alongside Carolyn Jessop, who chronicled her flight from the FLDS Church in a best-selling book.

"Texas is not going to be a state that's as tolerant of these crimes as Arizona and Utah have been," Jessop said. "In Eldorado, the crimes went to a whole new level. They thought they could get away with more."

Jessop's ex-husband is Merrill Jessop, a leader in the FLDS Church who is now in charge of the Texas compound. At age 18, she said she was forced to become Jessop's fourth wife and had eight children with him.

"My ex-husband would be the person who would be performing the marriages. He's managing everything and controlling everything," she said.

On Friday, polygamists, activists and bureaucrats met in southern Utah for a meeting of the Safety Net Committee, a group created by the Utah Attorney General's Office to foster relationships between polygamous sects and government while reaching out to those suffering from abuse and neglect. Some who attended said others expressed fear and a little paranoia.

"Law enforcement officers aren't interested in going after people because they're polygamists; they're going after people who are hurting children," said Paul Murphy, the Safety Net coordinator. "If you want to protect your community, then when cases of child abuse are coming up, report it so it can be handled directly and like any other community."

Marlyne Hammon with the pro-polygamy Centennial Park Action Committee said if abuse was happening, it was good for some action to be taken to stop it.

"If the girl was experiencing a problem, it's a good thing for her to call someone," she said Friday. "It's not right to harbor something like that."


E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS