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Tally of FLDS children jumps from 416 to 437

Guess? Final head count may change

Published: Friday, Aug. 28 2015 11:22 a.m. MDT

Texas state troopers monitor a gate Monday at the San Angelo Coliseum where security is extremely tight. The majority of children from the YFZ Ranch are currently in state custody and are undergoing DNA testing, at a cost of $100 per person, to determine parentage. (Mike Terry, Deseret News) Texas state troopers monitor a gate Monday at the San Angelo Coliseum where security is extremely tight. The majority of children from the YFZ Ranch are currently in state custody and are undergoing DNA testing, at a cost of $100 per person, to determine parentage. (Mike Terry, Deseret News)
SAN ANGELO, Texas — As authorities collect DNA samples from children taken from the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch, child welfare workers raised their head count of kids in state protective custody.
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services confirmed to the Deseret News late Monday that 437 FLDS children are now being housed at the San Angelo Coliseum, along with 95 mothers. That number is up by 21 from the 416 children that child welfare workers have repeatedly reported over the past two weeks.
"We've been able to get a better count now that we're over here at the coliseum," said Shari Pulliam, a spokeswoman for the Texas child protective services. "You can imagine with these many people and different locations, it was hard to get an exact count."
More than a dozen Texas State Troopers meet Monday at the San Angelo Coliseum where 437 FLDS children have been held. (Mike Terry, Deseret News) More than a dozen Texas State Troopers meet Monday at the San Angelo Coliseum where 437 FLDS children have been held. (Mike Terry, Deseret News)
Pulliam defended the earlier numbers, saying that it was difficult to get an accurate count.
"You've got mothers with babies in cots, but not everybody's lying down at the exact same time," she said. "Some are in the restroom at times when you're counting. Some people are in the shower. There's a lot of different things going on at the same time."
Pulliam said getting accurate information from the FLDS people at the makeshift shelter has also been a problem.
"We were told a different name, different birth date every time we asked," she said, admitting that the numbers could change again.
DNA samples
This morning, parents of the children taken from the YFZ Ranch are expected to show up at the Schleicher County Memorial Building in Eldorado to give DNA samples. Authorities say it will help determine paternity and maternity in the nation's biggest-ever child custody case.
"The court finds that an unknown number of males of reproductive age reside, or have resided, at the ranch during the probable time of conception of one or more of the children (who are) the subject of this suit," Judge Barbara Walther said in an order signed Monday. "The court further finds that an unknown number of females of childbearing age reside, or have resided at the ranch and could be the mother of one or more children (who are) the subject of this suit."
The judge's order lists the hundreds of names of parents and children who are known to have resided at the YFZ Ranch, including FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, whom it lists as being in "prison." Jeffs was convicted in Utah of rape as an accomplice for performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. He is currently incarcerated in Arizona, where he faces similar charges.
DNA samples continue to be taken from the children. They are given a cheek swab, then are photographed and fingerprinted. They have each been assigned a number to identify them and the sample they gave.
"It will take about 30 days to receive results, maybe a little longer," said Janece Rolfe of the Texas Attorney General's Office, which is taking the samples at a cost of $100 per person, footed by taxpayers.
The DNA samples may help determine paternity, but some associated with the FLDS Church fear it could be used in an ongoing criminal probe into the polygamous sect.
"I would assume that's the real reason they want it," said Rod Parker, a Salt Lake City attorney who is acting as a spokesman for the FLDS Church, who spoke with the Deseret News on Monday.
The Texas Attorney General's Office would only say the purpose of the DNA samples is to establish child custody, separate from any criminal investigation.
The raid on the YFZ Ranch began April 3 when authorities were investigating a phone call purportedly made by a 16-year-old girl who claimed she was abused, pregnant and in a polygamous marriage to a 50-year-old man. Once child welfare workers were on the ranch, they said they discovered other evidence of abuse.
A judge signed an order for removal of all of the children from the YFZ Ranch and last week ruled that all of the children should remain in state protective custody.
Foster care coming
Once the DNA samples are gathered, child welfare workers will move forward with placing the children in foster care.
"We've got some of the placements lined up, but we're still waiting for some guidance from the court," said Greg Cunningham with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
Child protective services said the children will be kept in groups, including teenage mothers with their children and siblings grouped together. The children will likely not be going to a typical foster home, Cunningham said.
"It's a home-type setting. A majority of them would go to a residential facility," he said Monday. "There are several different options out there."
Because of security reasons, authorities refused to discuss how the children would be transitioned from the San Angelo Coliseum to foster care. He also said contingency plans are in place for children who may attempt to run away from a foster home but declined to reveal more because of security risks.
Outside the coliseum on Monday, the police presence was heavy. Texas state troopers, Tom Green County sheriff's deputies, San Angelo police and unmarked patrol cars have all been seen circling the large parking lot surrounding the building questioning people who stepped onto the parking lot.


E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com

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