SAN ANGELO, Texas Dozens of FLDS faithful surrounded the gates of their only temple in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent a SWAT team from entering it, Texas police officials revealed Thursday.
"They lined up 57 people, as we counted, around the walls of the temple. They didn't appear to be armed," Texas Ranger Capt. Barry Caver explained.
He said church members told him they did so in order to avoid being "in violation of their beliefs by not defending the temple."
"Some would kneel and pray. Some of them were sobbing," he recalled.
Texas rangers and sheriff's deputies eventually used the "jaws of life" and other tools to physically break down the locked doors of the temple Saturday night, Caver said.
Armed with search warrants and a court order to remove everyone 17 and under from the FLDS Church's ranch, officers said it was sometimes difficult to locate the children because some were hiding from them or were being hidden by adults on the compound.
"They were shuffled around houses," Caver said. "They were playing kind of the egg-shell game, and we had issues with that."
Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran said he has worked hard to learn about the FLDS culture since the group moved into his county and tried to build relationships with the church's leaders in Eldorado. He believes it paid off.
"The groundwork that we've made in the last four years is what made this operation calm and successful," he said.
Investigators anticipated they would meet some kind of resistance to entering the large limestone temple. They met with the leader and bishop of the ranch, Merril Jessop, and with his lawyers to discuss the best way of doing it.
"We wanted to do it in the most peaceful and respectful way that we could," Caver said.
But FLDS leaders rejected options of leaving the doors to the temple unlocked or providing a key.
"They felt if they did that, that they'd be aiding or assisting us in the desecration of their worship place. So we had to use other means to gain entry and breach the doors," Caver said, adding that a locksmith was even summoned to the ranch, but had limited success.
He said there were beds on the top floor of the building, which has a basement and three stories, but he declined to release any more details.
While one man Levi Barlow Jeffs, 19 was arrested for trying to physically resist the entry, Caver said the others were mostly peaceful.
In court documents, attorneys for the church wrote that officers dragged the praying men out of their way to gain entry to the temple and said officers fired their weapons into the woods as they entered the gates.
Asked about that, Caver said, "No shots at all were fired."
Investigators said no one was found inside the temple.
The raid was prompted by phone calls from a16-year-old girl to a Texas child protective services hotline, alleging that she was being sexually and physically abused. She claimed to be married to a man named Dale Barlow, 49, and she had an 8-month-old baby and was already several weeks pregnant.
Authorities have taken 416 children into protective custody, but no one has yet been able to identify if the girl is among them.
"We may very well have her," Doran said Thursday. "We're dealing with a culture where they are taught early on they don't answer questions to a point."
Barlow, who lives in Arizona, told the Deseret Morning News Wednesday he hasn't been in Texas since 1977 and doesn't know the girl who made the allegations. The girl said Barlow last abused her on Easter Sunday. Barlow's parole officers and FLDS attorneys say they doubt he could have been at the ranch.
"I can't tell you if he was or was not on the (ranch) property at the time of the phone call or prior to that," Doran said, adding that he did speak by phone with someone whom he was told was Barlow.
But, the sheriff said, "He is still a suspect."
When asked if he knew there were underage girls marrying older men and bearing children, Doran said he knew the environment existed, but had no evidence.
As in any case, he said, if officers suspect a crime, they have to wait to obtain specific information to make an arrest. "You need good information, probably cause, evidence or an outcry," Doran said.
"We were aware this group is capable of (underage marriages and sex abuse), but this is the United States. We were going to respect them. We weren't going to violate their civil rights until we get an outcry or complaint ... or evidence that there's a problem."
When he and other government workers visited the 1,700-acre ranch in the past, the sheriff said he hadn't personally seen obviously young pregnant girls there. "They're very careful about who is seen in the community," he said.
Caver estimated there are about 65 to 75 men and a few women currently at the YFZ Ranch.
The sheriff would say little about a confidential informant who has provided him "great information" about the FLDS people over the past four years. He wouldn't say whether that person with ties to the community lives in Texas, Arizona or Utah.
As officers rounded up children to take them into protective custody, Caver said the residents appeared to be living their lives as usual. "They would sing and carry out normal daily activities, cooking, cleaning, that sort of thing."
Rangers weren't specifically aware whether any evidence was destroyed before the raid."We found shredded documents and that sort of thing. It's not certain at what time they'd been shredded," Caver said,
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