First look inside YFZ Ranch

First look: Quiet is unnerving as FLDS members seek answers

By Nancy Perkins and Brian West
Deseret News

Published: Sunday, April 13 2008 12:00 a.m. MDT

Monica, a member of the polygamous FLDS community near Eldorado, Texas, says she has been barred from seeing her children.

Keith Johnson, Deseret News

Today's coverage and videos — Raid aftermath: Cell phones are confiscated

Editor's note: For exclusive video from the YFZ Ranch, click here.

YFZ RANCH, Texas — The children's shoes still sit neatly, side by side where they last left them. Child-sized shovels and miniature wheelbarrows sit on the porch of their three-story, log cabin-like home.

The only noise now emanating from this 1,700-acre compound is the rustle of the wind, birds chirping, the occasional scurry of a roadrunner or a truck traveling along the dirt roads.

"It's miserable. It's too quiet," says Nancy, struggling to keep her emotional voice loud enough to be heard.

This grandmother and others at the reclusive ranch belonging to the Fundamentalist LDS Church on Saturday allowed the Deseret News onto their land and into their homes, which were raided last week by Texas authorities. All 416 children who lived there were removed and placed into temporary state custody.

It was the first time they had allowed the media access to places they consider private and sacred. During interviews with ranch residents, FLDS officials insisted that questions remain focused on the children's plight and declined to discuss other topics, including allegations of physical and sexual abuse.

Those who spoke asked that only their first names be used.

Collectively, their hearts are broken but their spirits undaunted.

"If you know what it's like to have a little child look you in the eyes, throw their arms around your neck, smile and give you a hug, then you know what it's like (here now)," she said, turning her head and sobbing into her shoulder.

The leader of the Yearning For Zion Ranch says he doesn't understand how the government could sweep in and seize all their children based on an unproven allegation.

"This whole situation is abusive and out of hand," said Merril Jessop, a presiding elder in the FLDS Church. "The nearest thing I have ever seen comparable to this, even on the TV shows, is Nazi Germany."

"The only thing we ask of the governor and citizens of Texas," Jessop said, "is to give every man, woman and child due process and an attorney before they destroy their lives."

Jessop extended Texas' governor an invitation to come and see where these children are now and what conditions they are being placed under and then to come and see what kind of home they were taken from.

Jessop then went one further, inviting a fellow Texan, President George Bush, to come and see what the state is doing to its citizens. "What can be more important than the safety and protection of the children of America?" he asked.

'Children are our life'

Nancy was at the ranch when Texas rangers and other authorities began taking away the children. She said they knocked on the door of her home, walked in, separated the children, began interviewing "and didn't give us an explanation of what they were doing," she said.

She and other mothers declined to answer the officers' questions about which child belonged to who. "They told us we're going to take the children unless you tell us who are their mothers. But we still weren't saying anything," she recalled. Then she heard them call for backup.

Nancy, who was holding a baby in her arms, said one officer "poked their face into our face" and loudly said, "Give me that baby!"

"I said, 'I'm not going to do that,'" she said.

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