COLORADO CITY, Ariz. — Piles of books — perhaps thousands — intended to be used for a new library were burned over the weekend in the polygamous community that borders Utah.
In a separate incident, an elder in the Fundamentalist LDS Church who has challenged Warren Jeffs for the presidency of the sect was cited for trespassing last week.
The large number of books being stored for a library were reportedly set fire on Saturday. Isaac Wyler, a member of the Colorado City, Ariz. community, said he went to survey the damage on Monday and discovered warm ashes and book fragments.
"There is a bonfire outside that clearly has books that have burned in it," Wyler said. "I can't say every book has been burned, because I haven't seen the inside. I can't get in there to see."
Bruce Wisan, who has been appointed by the state to oversee management of an FLDS trust, said the books were being housed in a old schoolhouse.
"It was supposed to be a library," he said. "The trust wanted to deed it to the county, but (one man) went to the county supervisors and told them that we shouldn't be taking church property and there would be lawsuit."
It is believed that there were thousands of books in the building, including some which had been donated by Barnes and Noble Booksellers. Wyler said he is not sure how many books were destroyed as he could not gain access to the schoolhouse.
"My keys no longer fit the door anymore," he said. "They've blocked all the windows, you can't look in and see. My guess is there's not a book in this building."
Calls to an FLDS Church spokesman were not immediately returned Monday. Wyler was planning on reporting the incident to police and intended to file a vandalism complaint.
In 2008, ex-FLDS member Stefanie Colgrove began gathering books from all over the country from book lovers who heard about her idea for a library in the FLDS communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City. There hadn't been a public library in the towns for years.
She moved back to the border towns to raise her family and decided she wanted a library for everyone. The rumor was that Jeffs ordered the old library closed and all of the books disappeared, she said. Local community groups offered to help start a book drive and collect used bookshelves.
"We have a lot of people very excited about it in the community," Colgrove said at the time.
In a separate incident, William E. Jessop, 41, was issued a class one trespassing violation after he went to a home in Colorado City, Ariz., around 11:30 p.m. on April 14.
Jessop's personal address was listed in Westcliffe, Colo., which is a smaller, FLDS enclave.
Jessop, who is the former bishop of the FLDS twin border towns, has said his recent attempt to assume the presidency fulfills a 2007 directive from Jeffs himself. The presidency of the church corporation is currently in question, though, as Jeffs — who is currently in jail in Texas where he is facing charges of bigamy and sexual assault of a minor — recently tried to formally reclaim the post.
Jeffs, 55, had been the president and ecclesiastical head of the FLDS Church since 2002, but there was some question as to whether he had temporarily turned the position over to Jessop after Jeffs was convicted of rape as an accomplice in Utah in 2007.
"I know of your ordination, that you are the key holder, and I have sent a note with my signature so that there is no question," Jeffs told Jessop in a Jan. 24, 2007, telephone call.
Jeffs told his family and other church leaders the same thing in other calls made at the same time. Recordings of the calls were released by the Utah courts as part of Jeffs' case. Jessop, however, never took the position and the whole incident was later characterized as a test for the FLDS faithful.
In February 2010, Wendell Loy Nielsen was named president of the church in documents filed with the Utah Department of Commerce. He had long been a senior leader in the heirarchy of the southern Utah-based church. An attorney said the move was a legal formality that clarified that Nielsen had the authority to make decisions related to church business.
But Nielsen resigned in January and Jeffs was reinstated to the position as president. In March, Jessop then filed to take over the church presidency from Jeffs, saying it was an attempt to "preserve the church." Just days later, Jeffs loyalist Boyd Knudsen responded with a counter-filing saying Jessop never had authority to assume the role.
In a second set of affidavits, Knudsen claimed some 4,000 members had unanimously voted to support Jeffs' presidency. The papers also say the same group renounced Jessop as "not a part of said church."
The Utah Department of Commerce placed an administrative hold on the two legal entities that make up the FLDS Church that is in place until May 2.
In the meantime, Colorado City police have yet to comment on what led to Jessop's citation, but reports are that the man was attempting to visit family who remain in Colorado City.
At this point, the property in the twin towns is part of a larger management trust, which is currently under the control of the state. However, if those occupying the home are those who signed the occupancy agreement, they would have the right to have someone removed from their property.