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August Miller, Deseret News

ABILENE, Texas — The two-story twin home is small with a tiny back patio, but it's home.

And that's all that really matters to four FLDS children taken two months ago from their home on the YFZ Ranch.

"Where's my room, mother?" shouts 6-year-old Abram as he scurries through the house, opening one door and then another.

His sisters, Danielle, 9, and Autumn, 4, squeal as they dart around the cozy living room, standing still long enough to look at family photos their mother has taped on a wall before running back to her for another hug.

"It's upstairs. There's one room for the boys, one room for the girls and one room for grandma," replies Sarah Barlow Draper as she beams at her little boy who can't seem to stand still or stop chatting.

She watches Abram, or Abe as the family likes to call him, disappear up the stairs before seeing him reappear. With one leg over the banister, he slides down, yelling for someone to "catch me!"

Abe declares the ride less than satisfactory, however.

"We had a big, old, long one of these at our home on the ranch!" Abe says to no one in particular before darting outside to check out a nearby playground.

Sarah, 37, can't help laughing at her child's energy as he insists on helping a Deseret News photographer set up a camera and even take photos. Abe is quite sure he knows how to take pictures, snapping several as his mother's smile widens.

"He's so excited. We're all excited and happy," Sarah says, pulling her eldest daughter, 13-year-old Rebekah, or Becca, closer to her side. "We're so thankful we have the children back. That's what matters."

It's been a long two months since Texas authorities raided the YFZ Ranch and took every child from the 1,700-acre, self-sustaining community on allegations of abuse and neglect.

The Barlow children were eventually moved from shelters in San Angelo to the Hendricks Home for Children in Abilene. The 50-acre campus is normally a temporary, 24-hour child-care facility for about 60 children, who stay in family-style cottages or townhouses.

Sarah believes her children were blessed to be placed together in the Hendricks Home. Many other children and mothers were not so fortunate, with many families being scattered around the state.

Another son, 11-year-old Joseph, or Joey, wasn't at the ranch at the time of the raid. That's another blessing, she says.

"I know some mothers had some very difficult experiences," says Sarah, a registered nurse who recently was hired to work in the emergency room at the local hospital in Abilene. "I don't know what some of the mothers will do. They want us to get jobs and apartments to take care of our children."

Sarah has been preparing for this day for some time.

Three weeks ago, she rented the modest Abilene home near the foster facility where her children were being housed — waiting and hoping for the day the children would come home.

She bought furniture with her first paycheck from the hospital job.

"I planted this garden because I knew the children would be coming home," she says, pointing to a tiny garden strip of tomato plants, marigolds, corn and sunflowers.

Monday morning, she signed a court-ordered affidavit identifying herself as the mother of her children, had her photograph taken with them and provided fingerprints to Texas officials. Her final task before taking the children to their new home was a quick trip to Wal-Mart to buy two car seats for the youngest.

The children's father, former Colorado City Mayor Dan Barlow, said his heart filled at the news of Monday's reunion. Barlow was ousted from the Fundamentalist LDS Church more than four years ago and told by FLDS leader Warren Jeffs to leave town — and his family — behind. He only recently saw his children when he traveled to Texas to see what he could do to help Sarah win them back.

"Sarah is a wonderful mother. I'm so pleased they are together," Barlow said, adding he misses the children and just shipped off a box of books for them to enjoy. "How thankful I am. We recognize the good Lord's hand in everything."

When Sarah first was taken from the ranch with her children, Texas officials said she was 18 or younger. Sarah wasn't allowed to have her own attorney until her age was verified through two official sources, she adds.

"Do you know how old I am?" Sarah said Monday. "I'm 37 years old tomorrow! I kind of thought, well, as much as I don't like what you are doing, that is one of the nicest compliments. I had to either laugh or cry, and so I laughed."

Danielle, who also goes by the nickname of Dani, was taken with the first group of children, and she's had a very hard time throughout the traumatizing event, her mother said.

"She just rolled up in a little ball last Friday when I went to see her," Sarah recalls, wrapping her arms around the 9-year-old. "I'm just so grateful she is home. There's no use in being angry over what has happened. It is a time to draw closer to the Lord. He's the one who has seen us through this."

Danielle puts it another way when asked what she first thought of the strangers that took her away from her home on the YFZ Ranch.

"I yelled at them a lot," Dani says of her initial reaction to the Texas child welfare officials and her forced stay at a temporary shelter in San Angelo. "I told them I needed my mother the very most!"

Autumn is called Autty for short, a term of endearment for the brown-eyed girl who often clung to her big sister's skirt after being separated from her mother.

"I can't believe we were without our mother!" says Autumn, taking her eyes off her mother's face for a brief moment before tucking her face back under her mother's chin.

Sarah's mother, Elizabeth Johnson, came to town a few days ago in anticipation of helping her daughter take care of her children.

"They are so precious," Johnson gushes, giving each child a big hug as they wiggle through the back door. "We are so grateful they are home."

Rebekah has a hard time thinking about what she just went through. It's even more difficult trying to express herself to a reporter.

"I never dreamed of being taken away from home like that," says the 13-year-old, whose copper-gold hair falls to her waist in one long braid. "I was the only teenager in a place with children all younger than 5. The children all treated me just like I was their big sister."

Rebekah's calm and loving nature helped the children adjust and face their new surroundings, her mother says. It was a task meant for someone older, but her quiet, shy daughter knew the children needed her.

"Everywhere she went she had two or three little children hanging on to her skirt," Sarah says. "She loved them and they loved her."

The nights, Rebekah recalls, "were always the hardest."

"All the children would come find me. None of them wanted to go to bed without me. Autumn would cry nearly every night," she says, putting her hand over her eyes.

It is not a memory that Rebekah wants to recall.

"I don't like to remember. I don't like to look back on it," she says, leaning on her mother's arm and covering her face. "It makes me ..."

Sarah finishes her daughter's thought out loud, "It's depressing. But we will take it one day at a time. We will be all right."

Going back to live on the YFZ Ranch may not be an option right away for Sarah and her children. Texas Child Protective Services isn't requiring parents to live outside the ranch, but some mothers have chosen to do so hoping to avoid additional scrutiny that living there could bring.

"It's not like we're totally free to go wherever we want to go," she says.

For now, home is right here in Abilene, and for now, that's enough.


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