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Fort Concho: Tight quarters, fear taking toll on moms, children; exclusive phone interview

Published: Sunday, April 13 2008 1:02 a.m. MDT

An image taken from a cell phone inside one of the shelters shows the living conditions of the women and children who were removed from the YFZ Ranch. () An image taken from a cell phone inside one of the shelters shows the living conditions of the women and children who were removed from the YFZ Ranch. ()
Exclusive telephone interview
from inside Fort Concho

(5 minutes)

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Kathleen has been on "night watch" in a makeshift shelter here with 170 children and women for the past six nights.
"Many people came in here healthy and strong," the woman said from a cell phone inside the temporary shelter at the "Cattle Arena" annex of the San Angelo coliseum.
"I've been walking around and comforting crying, sick children," she said, adding that she also been helping overwhelmed mothers struggle to care for their children in their new environments.
Five women spoke with the Deseret News Saturday from inside the two shelters. They are the first of more than 100 women inside the shelters to speak publicly since being taken from the YFZ Ranch along with hundreds of children as part of a raid by Texas authorities a week ago.

A cell phone image shows how close cots are placed inside the shelter in San Angelo, Texas. () A cell phone image shows how close cots are placed inside the shelter in San Angelo, Texas. ()
The women, who only provided their first names, called and spoke to reporters at the Yearning For Zion Ranch, about 50 miles away, via cell phone.
Dorothy described the anxiety many of the children feel being away from home, especially at night.
She said 25 young girls have mothers who are staying in another shelter, yet Child Protective Services workers have refused to even let them pass notes to each other. That means she has had to comfort many of them.
She said the children have told her, "Please come and sleep on my bed so they won't take me. I say, 'No, I will sleep by the door so I can watch all of you.'"
Dorothy said workers at the shelter will walk through the crowded room among the children at night, which makes it even more difficult for them to sleep. The cots, cribs and playpens are side by side.
"There's no separation," Paula, another mother, said. "When we're trying to bed down the children and a child is crying, we can't settle them down. It's hard to know how to help each child. It takes a good one-and-a-half hours to settle everyone down."
Texas officials removed all 416 children from the ranch belonging to the Fundamentalist LDS Church as part of an investigation of sexual and physical abuse. Authorities allowed 139 mothers to accompany the children to the temporary shelters until a judge decides the fate of each child. A hearing is schedule for Thursday.
Mothers who didn't first accompany their children have not been allowed inside. The mothers at the shelters are free to leave, but if they do so, they will not be allowed to return.
One small girl, whose mother was not at the ranch during the raid and has not been allowed to join her children in the shelter, cries out for her mother daily.
"It's quite traumatic to her. She just cries and cries, missing her mother," Barbara said.
"When a child is crying, it affects the whole room. There's nowhere else to go."
Barbara said one child she's been caring for got sick and had to go to the hospital. Her mother had been away from the ranch when the raid took place and didn't accompany her daughter to the shelter.
After the little girl returned to the shelter after being hospitalized, a caseworker quizzed Barbara, "Where was her (the little girl's) mother? Why was she gone from the ranch (during the raid)? Where did she go?"
Barbara said she told the caseworker that the child's mother was outside the shelter waiting to see her daughter, to which the worker responded, "Well, she's with us now so that's how it is."
Children could be heard crying in the background during each of the phone interviews from the shelters.
"I've got approximately two hours of sleep every 24 hours for the past six days," Dorothy said Saturday.
Paula said the children constantly ask when they'll be allowed to go home. "They also want something to do. They're used to being busy. They say, 'What can we do? What can we do?'"
Kathleen believes some of the child welfare workers have used frightening tactics when interviewing the children. She said she heard one tell a child, "If you do not tell us these things, we will take you away from your mother and father and you will never see them again."
Texas Department of Family and Protective Services officials say they've made great efforts to try to make the children and women comfortable. DPS officials say they are interviewing the children in an effort to establish their identities, but have not discussed interviewing methods.
FLDS children and adult are extremely modest and they wear long dresses and long-sleeved shirts. The mothers said the children have also received physical examinations from medical workers and it has been traumatic to some.
"Some of the children have come out crying and screaming," she said. "They were touching their bodies in inappropriate ways."
Paula said she and the other mothers are at least glad to be with their children in the shelters.
"We believe Heavenly Father will bless us," she said. "We are determined to stay with our children, however long it takes. We do not want them to take these children away."


E-mail: bwest@desnews.com; nperkins@desnews.com

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