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Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News
Aerial photo shows the temple at the YFZ ranch owned by the FLDS in Eldorado.

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Light rain fell across this Texas town this morning, keeping most of the FLDS children seized by the state indoors.

Some children ran around in circles, playing and chasing each other with a ball and a jump rope, while a few mothers watched at their temporary makeshift shelter home at the historic Fort Concho.

Across town, no one appeared to venture into the parking lot outside the second shelter at the "Cattle Arena" annex of the San Angelo Coliseum. A group of 170 children and women were taken there Tuesday.

A team of a dozen attorneys for the FLDS Church has been preparing for a court hearing this afternoon, when they will "tell our side of the story," attorney Patrick Peranteau told the Deseret Morning News.

The hearing will be held before Schleicher County 51st District Judge Barbara Walther, who issued the search warrants authorizing Texas officials to gather evidence and remove all 416 children from the YFZ Ranch where they lived and place them into state custody. The judge is expected to hear arguments about the constitutionality of the warrants and possible requests to return certain seized evidence, Peranteau said.

A hearing to determine custody of the children won't be held until April 17.

Law enforcement officers remained at the ranch today in Eldorardo, 45 miles from here, gathering more evidence. That search is expected to wrap up soon.

Now that the search for children living at the remote polygamous ranch is over, other legal issues begin.

Texas child welfare officials say they've taken temporary legal custody of the children in order to protect them.

"We believe all of the children have now been safely removed from the ranch," said Marleigh Meisner, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Tuesday. "We believe every child at that ranch, if they were not abused or neglected, they were certainly at risk."

Details about the 16-year-old girl — whose phone call prompted officials to raid the 1,700-acre YFZ Ranch and remove all the children — were explained in a disturbing court affidavit released Tuesday afternoon.

The teenage girl living at the secluded ranch called a local family violence shelter March 29 to report that she was being abused by a man to whom she had been "spiritually married."

The girl, who said she was several weeks pregnant and the mother of an 8-month-old infant, requested assistance leaving the ranch, which is owned by the Fundamentalist LDS Church. The affidavit states that the girl called several times that day, expressing the "need to leave her current living situation." During the phone calls, the girl told shelter workers she was using someone else's cell phone and spoke quietly so she would not be overheard and "get in trouble," the affidavit states.

The teen told officials she had been taken to the ranch by her parents about three years ago. Then, last year, when she was 15, she was "spiritually married to an adult male member of the church." He was 49, and she became his seventh wife.

The teenage mother said she began to be abused shortly after she started living at the ranch. "She advised that the adult male would 'beat and hurt her' whenever he got angry," according to the document.

This included hitting her in the chest and choking her, the affidavit states. When such abuse occurred, the girl told officials, other women in her home would hold her infant child.

The last time he beat her was on Easter Sunday, she said. The document also indicated that the man had once beaten her so severely that she suffered several broken ribs.

After that incident, she was taken to a hospital, and a doctor wrapped her torso with a bandage and told her, "Take it easy for a few days," according to the document.

The girl also said the man would force himself on her sexually.

She told officials she was never allowed to leave the ranch except for medical care. In such cases, a man would drive and another woman from the ranch would accompany her.

The young mother said she tried to come up with a plan to escape by pretending to be sick, the document says. She then realized that wouldn't work because she wouldn't be able to take her baby with her unless the infant also was ill.

The girl also said, according to the affidavit, that "her parents did not live on the YFZ Ranch and that she has not had any contact with them to explain that she does not want to continue to be on the ranch."

The next day, on March 30, the same girl called the family shelter again, the documents state. She again mentioned her "spiritual union through the church," but said there had been no formal marriage. She said her husband, who had three other wives living on the ranch, had left the compound to the "outsiders' world."

The department of family services determined the man had been indicted in Mohave County, Ariz., on criminal sex charges in connection with a purported marriage to a minor there. The document said the man was convicted and sentenced to 45 days in jail and three years' probation. The document didn't mention his name, but search warrants listed the name of Dale Barlow, who faced those charges and received the same sentence in Arizona.

During the same conversation to the shelter, the 16-year-old girl said she was being held against her will and said "church members had told her that if she tried to leave, she will be found and locked up." She also said she had been told that outsiders would "hurt her, force her to cut her hair, to wear makeup and clothes and to have sex with lots of men," the court affidavit states.

The girl also said her parents were preparing to send her 15-year-old sister to live at the ranch.

"At the conclusion of this conversation she began crying and then stated that she is happy and fine and does not want to get into trouble and that everything she had previously said should be forgotten," the affidavit states.

Based on the information gleaned from the phone calls, Texas officials successfully petitioned a judge for a warrant to search the ranch, investigate the allegations and interview the children there.

During the search of the ranch, investigators observed a number of young girls who appeared to be pregnant, as well as several teen girls who had already given birth. Investigators said there was a "widespread pattern and practice" at the ranch in which young females are "conditioned to expect and accept sexual activity with adult men at the ranch upon being spiritually married to them."

The document states that once a girl reaches child-bearing age, approximately 13 or 14, she is "spiritually married" to an adult member of the church and is expected to engage in sexual activity in order to have children.

Based on the circumstances at the ranch, according to the affidavit, the state family services department determined that "immediate danger exists to the physical health or safety of the children" and/or the children are victims of neglect and sexual abuse.

"Similarly minor boys residing on the YFZ Ranch, after they become adults, are spiritually married to minor female children and engage in sexual relationships with them, resulting in them becoming sexual perpetrators," wrote DFPS investigator Lynn McFadden.

During interviews with child protective services, "a number of children" were unable or unwilling to name their parents or identified "multiple mothers." Some also would not provide information like birth dates, the document says. "This has made it difficult to determine who are the parents of the children located on the YFZ Ranch."

Although they know her name, child welfare workers still don't know if the teenager who called is among the 416 children.

"I still can't confirm we have the 16-year-old girl," Meisner said.

In addition to the 416 children, 139 adult women from the ranch are being housed at the shelters. They are free to leave if they want but are apparently there to be with their children.

Asked if these mothers have been told what may happen to their children and what legal steps were being taken, Meisner would only say, "We're in the process of speaking with the mothers and children."

More than 700 state workers from throughout Texas have been sent to San Angelo to assist with this monumental operation.

Two men from the ranch have been arrested for interfering with the search efforts.

Leroy Johnson Steed, 41, remains in the Schleicher County Jail on suspicion of tampering with physical evidence, a third-degree felony. He was booked Monday night. Levi Barlow Jeffs, 19, was booked into the jail Sunday for investigation of interfering with the duties of a public servant, a class B misdemeanor. He was released on bond Monday.

FLDS Church leader Merrill Jessop, who oversees the ranch, spoke to a reporter Tuesday about the raid. He told the Salt Lake Tribune his ability to communicate with family members taken from the ranch was rapidly diminishing as police confiscated cell phones.

Jessop said that those at the ranch have no Internet or television access and have no way to know what has become of the women and children taken from the ranch.

"There needs to be a public outcry that goes far and wide," he said. "What's coming we don't know. The hauling off of women and children matches anything in Russia or Germany."

Additional court papers filed Tuesday identified at least partial information on 330 of the children. The papers granted Texas temporary custody of each child, ordered parents to provide information such as health insurance, income tax returns, current pay stubs, parentage information, medical histories, etc. The order also authorizes authorities to order each parent to attend counseling sessions, submit to psychological examinations, attend parenting classes, submit to drug and alcohol assessments, and other requirements.


E-mail: bwest@desnews.com