SAN ANGELO, Texas Texas authorities loaded more than 150 children taken from the YFZ Ranch nearly two weeks ago onto buses Monday afternoon, moving them from the cramped conditions they have endured at Fort Concho to the San Angelo Coliseum.
Nearly a dozen large charter buses loaded with women and children left with police escorts followed by reporters and photographers in their own vehicles. Some of the children waved at reporters as they were driven away.
The Deseret News reported Sunday that the women and children being housed in the historic fort were complaining that illness was sweeping through the group and that there was no privacy.
"We have been more sick than usual. We don't like what they're doing," one woman at the shelter said. She did not want her name used because she was using her cell phone and feared losing it.
"There's tension in the air, that's for sure."
Authorities confiscated that woman's cell phone and other electronic communication devices found among those housed at the two shelters after the newspaper quoted several women who spoke with a reporter for a Sunday article.
Another 170 children are being housed nearby at the Wells Fargo Pavilion, which is near the coliseum. There are 139 women, who are mothers or other close relatives of the children, living in the same conditions and taking care of them.
Three of the women living with the children also sent a letter Saturday to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, asking him for help with their situation. They invited him to visit the temporary shelters so he could see the conditions firsthand.
But Perry has yet to receive a letter from mothers of children removed from the ranch, his spokeswoman, Allison Castle, told the Deseret News Monday.
"We're not going to comment on what may or may not be in the letter until we actually see it," Castle said, declining to speculate "right now" on whether the Texas governor will meet with the women.
"The governor is being briefed daily on this, but he trusts the agencies in charge are making the appropriate decisions," Castle said, calling Monday's move to the larger quarters "a strategic decision" that was made as soon as the San Angelo Coliseum became available.
She said Perry "supports ensuring the safety and welfare of these children. I think the governor is confident the appropriate steps are being taken, and policies and procedures are being followed."
A Texas judge and dozens of attorneys struggled on Monday to figure out a way to handle a Thursday court hearing that could send hundreds of polygamous sect children to foster care.
"Right now we are focusing on the actions by the Department of Child and Family Services who are seeking protection of the children," said Judge Barbara Walther of the Texas 51st District Court at the Tom Green Courthouse.
The judge wanted attorneys to help determine the most expedient and judicious way to handle the massive number of cases scheduled to be heard in her courtroom on Thursday.
"We want your input on how to handle the hearing," she said. "I want to ensure that any adults that need an attorney, and they have an absolute right to have an attorney, have one or they can apply for one."
Texas Rangers, law enforcement officers from two counties and other authorities raided the YFZ Ranch near Eldorado in Schleicher County more than a week ago. Two deputies providing security at today's hearing said they participated in the raid, which netted 416 children. Another 139 women elected to go with the children when they were bused out of the property.
A spokesman for the FLDS Church, Rod Parker, said members of the FLDS Church feel that the judicial system is biased against them.
"They are out of their element and are frightened," said Parker, a Salt Lake City attorney who has represented the FLDS church for more than a decade. "There is a big concern about not being able to have their voices heard."
Among the dozens of attorneys who showed up for the hearing, which is required within 14 days of the state's decision to place the children into temporary custody, were lawyers who said they represented the children and their mothers and fathers. Attorneys for the FLDS Church also attended the three-hour hearing.
An attorney for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said the state wants to hold one hearing for all 416 children rounded up at the YFZ Ranch. Determining which child belongs to which mother has been a logistical nightmare for child welfare workers and others trying to determine the parentage of each child, the attorney said.Attorneys expressed a significant amount of frustration over the logistical challenge facing them and voiced concern over not being able to speak individually by telephone with their clients.
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche