Attorneys, media, others descend on San Angelo for FLDS custody hearing

Published: Thursday, April 17 2008 9:15 a.m. MDT

Holmes said she has a teenage daughter who recently had a baby and she worries about who will take care of the children.

"They're going to need a lot of guidance and therapy," she said. "They're going to need a lot of people to show (the children) that they did nothing wrong."

Inside the home of Juan Ibarra, photos of family members mingled with religious pictures on a paneled wall. Ibarra and his friend, Felix Rojax, also live near Fort Concho and said the state's action was needed.

"I do believe that something has to be done," he said. "I feel for the parents, but I feel for the kids more. Whether right or wrong ... we need to take care of the kids first in any way possible."

Rojax, who has been driving a truck for 20 years, said each week he passes through Eldorado and wonders about the YFZ Ranch and who lives there.

"I was in a foster home growing up and I know these people's kids aren't used to living in our society," he said. "I just hope the man upstairs knows. I hope the kids will be able to survive the changes. I think they need to live day by day now that they're out of there. I just hope every kid's OK."

State officials said while much attention has been focused on the desire to "produce" Sarah — the mysterious child bride whose allegations of abuse prompted the raid early this month — that's not the issue that will unfold today in court.

"I think some people have really focused on that (Sarah) but the reality is that her phone call is the reason we went out there, but it was not the reason for the removals," said Greg Cunningham, spokesman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

"The removals happened based on what we saw out there."

Attorney Rod Parker, acting as spokesman for the Fundamentalist LDS Church, said Texas officials know there is no "Sarah."

"How can they think they have her inside with the other children when what they really have is uncorroborated and refuted?" said Parker. "Do they think they have the wife of Dale Barlow? Because that's who they say she is."

The three-day raid on the YFZ Ranch was based on allegations from phone calls to a family shelter hotline from a 16-year-old girl named Sarah who said she was married to Barlow. The caller said she was pregnant and was being physically and sexually abused by the man who she said had six other wives.

Texas Rangers traveled to Utah last weekend to interview Barlow, 50, who lives in Colorado City, Ariz. He insists he doesn't know the girl and has never been to the Texas ranch. He was not arrested.

"That is because she's not the wife of Dale Barlow, because she doesn't exist," Parker said.

When the custody hearing gets under way today, attorneys with the legal affairs division of the state agency will argue to keep the children in state custody — regardless of whether they are able to prove the allegations they say were lodged by Sarah.

"What we are going to have to prove to the judge is that these children have been abused and are in danger of further abuse if they are returned to their homes," Cunningham said. "In doing that, it will not just be CPS trying to prove this, it will be a lot of parties in the courthouse."

The relatively small Tom Green County Courthouse in San Angelo cannot handle the anticipated crowd, so in addition to the setting where the action will unfold, authorities have set up a teleconferencing site at City Hall to accommodate interested parties, mainly the media. The hearing is expected to last all day and perhaps spill into Friday.

Although sexual abuse is front and center at the case that led to the raid, Cunningham would not comment specifically on whether any medical exams have been performed to determine evidence of sexual activity among the young FLDS women and girls.

"Generally, that evidence is something we would secure as part of our investigation," he said.

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