CEDAR CITY — The alleged leader of an Iron County doomsday sect accused of leaving two young girls in 50-gallon barrels for 24 hours was formally charged Wednesday with child kidnapping.
Samuel Warren Shaffer, 34, of Cedar City, is charged with two counts of child kidnapping, a first-degree felony, and four counts of intentional child abuse causing injury, a second-degree felony.
The case against Shaffer comes on the heels of charges filed Tuesday against one of Shaffer's purported followers, John Alvin Coltharp. Coltharp, 34, of Spring City, was charged in Sanpete County's 6th District Court with child kidnapping, a first-degree felony, and obstructing justice by concealing a person, a class A misdemeanor.
The bizarre case began in mid-August when Coltharp and Micha Soble separated. Soble went to live in Utah County, while Coltharp stayed in Spring City, Sanpete County, with the couple's two sons and two daughters, between the ages of 8 and 4, and the children's grandparents.
Coltharp told his estranged wife that she was an "unfit mother" and that she should "just 'forget them,'" according to charging documents.
In mid-September, Soble contacted police after not hearing from any of her children and her estranged husband. Investigators believed that Coltharp and his parents all disconnected their cellphones so they could not be tracked, charging documents state, and loaded a U-Haul in the middle of the night and vacated their house.
Other relatives of Coltharp told police they believed he had "left the area to join a new church in the Iron County area. Information received from family was that it was an LDS offshoot that believed in fundamental doctrines," the charges state.
According to court records, Coltharp's ex-wife told authorities that "(Coltharp) belongs to a religious group called the Knights of the Crystal Blade and is likely living in the Cedar City area with the sect's prophet, Samuel Warren Shaffer." She called Coltharp a "doomsday prepper who believes that the world will soon come to an end," and said he had fled to an unknown location with the children and his parents, according to court records.
On Friday, neighbors reported suspicious activity at Coltharp's Spring City home. Officers responded and found Coltharp. He told police that "the family was on extended vacation" and refused to say where the children were, the charges state.
At the time of Coltharp's arrest, his friend identified as "Sam" was also inside the Spring City home, police say. Sam left the house just after midnight and was stopped by police, but the children were not with him at that time.
On Sunday, Iron County sheriff's deputies spotted vehicles registered to Coltharp's parents — the grandparents of the children — in a remote area of northern Iron County approximately a mile west of Lund. Monday, deputies found the grandparents living in a "makeshift residence constructed of Conex storage containers" and talked to them, charging documents state. The two young boys were found at that time.
The "compound" consisted of a large storage container connected to two smaller ones in a U formation, said Iron County Sheriff's Lt. Del Schlosser. A total of six children and four adults were living in the containers, which totaled approximately 800 square feet, he said.
The compound was located on the private property of a person the group knew, Schlosser said. It was not known Wednesday if the property owner knew what was happening on his land.
After finding Coltharp's boys, investigators learned that the two girls were possibly with Shaffer and his own two young daughters. The grandparents said that the girls were with Shaffer the night before "in a tent located approximately 150 yards from the Conex storage containers," according to court documents.
An extensive ground and air search of the area was conducted, and an Amber Alert was issued for Coltharp's two girls.
By Monday night, Shaffer was spotted walking along a dirt road several miles west of where the grandparents were found. He told investigators where to find the girls.
Coltharp's two girls were hidden in a plastic 50-gallon water barrel about 1,000 yards south of the Coltharp property, the charges state. Schlosser said it was actually two barrels made into one by being connected end-to-end. He did not know Wednesday if the barrel was locked or if the girls stayed in it because they were threatened.
"According to Shaffer, the children had been placed into the water barrel to conceal or hide them from being found by searching law enforcement, and the children had spent an estimated 24 hours inside the barrel in subfreezing temperatures. These two children were not properly dressed for cold temperatures, had no food or water, and Shaffer admitted he left a firearm he was carrying while fleeing from law enforcement lying on the ground next to the barrel," the charges state.
Shaffer's own two children were found in an abandoned mobile home "in deplorable living conditions" and were in "poor health, with signs of dehydration and acting lethargic," according to court records.
All four girls were taken to Cedar City Hospital. The youngest girl, one of Shaffer's daughters, was flown from there to Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City. An updated condition was not known Wednesday.
Coltharp was scheduled to make an initial appearance in court Wednesday.
Schlosser said Coltharp's parents who were also living in the compound "have been interviewed, and they are cooperating with investigators." It was undetermined Wednesday whether they would also face charges, he said.5 comments on this story
A sweep of the compound by sheriff's deputies with help from agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigations was completed Tuesday. Schlosser said investigators were in the process of doing research on the group's religious beliefs and try to determine what plans they had for the children.
On the website thekingdomofgodornothing.com, Shaffer is identified as "the patriarch of the church," as well as Samuel the Seer. The website contains long ramblings of Shaffer's "visions," as well as videos of his radio podcast.