Texas sheriff pays visit to Colorado City

Doran travels to Arizona, Utah on fact-finding trip

The Spectrum (So. Utah)/May 18, 2004
By Jane Zhang

St. George -- A day's visit to Colorado City discounted "a lot of rumors" about polygamy, a Texas county sheriff said Monday evening.

"There wasn't anything we didn't see -- very hospitable, very open," said Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran. "It was very eye-opening. I was humbled by what I've seen. I got to see a community that works."

Along with his Chief Deputy George Arispe, Doran is on a fact-finding trip about the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the largest polygamist group in America. Based in Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, the church is building what members say is a retreat for the faithful near Eldorado in Schleicher County.

With five buildings planned in the hilly county, the Eldorado site reportedly will house about 200 people at any given time. But in a town with 2,000 people, many residents have worried about the impact of a potential block vote in local elections, an influx to the public school system, a possible strain on the local health care system and the impact on the welfare system.

Even worse, anti-polygamy activists and some residents fear another Waco, where David Koresh and 85 of his Branch Davidian followers died in 1993. Utah and Arizona investigators are also investigating what they say are child abuses, welfare fraud and tax evasions in the border towns of Colorado City and Hildale.

While "anything is possible," Doran said, seeing the polygamist communities firsthand did break some of the hype surrounding polygamy.

In a rare gesture from the secretive church, Sam Roundy, Colorado City's police chief, took the guests to visit schools, the fire department and a polygamist family, whose children were taught about responsibilities at a young age, Doran said. The group also visited the so-called "baby cemetery," where babies of birth defects were rumored to be buried.

Doran and Arispe dined at the Mark Twain Restaurant and talked for about an hour with Richard Allred, Colorado City's new mayor, and Sam Barlow, the former town police chief, the sheriff said.

Today, Doran added, Colorado City officials will likely join him when he flies over town in a helicopter and meets with Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith and Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan.

A large exodus to Texas, Barlow assured him, wouldn't happen. The Eldorado compound probably will be similar to Colorado City, whose residents rarely interact with area residents outside of the FLDS church, Doran said.

"This is going to be a community," he said. "It's a small community, more like a refuge and retreat."

But Pennie Petersen, a child victims advocate in Phoenix, said she didn't believe the Eldorado site was purchased and built only for FLDS visitors.

If the site was for 200 people, she said, the five buildings would only accommodate several families. With at least 60 wives, FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs alone has more than 100 children, she said. The move to Texas is a calculated move by the "fanatical" Jeffs, she said.

"That's why we have Texas: His paranoia is higher," said Petersen, who grew up in Colorado City. "That paranoia can lead to bad things."

Earlier this year, Jeffs excommunicated at least 30 men from the church, including then mayor Dan Barlow. Rod Parker, an attorney for the FLDS church, said the move to Texas was partly caused by the pressure from the Utah Attorney General's Office.

If the pressure increases, if Eldorado doesn't work out, Petersen said, "pretty soon you'll get a Waco, or you'll get something crazy happening."

But she would not speculate what exactly will happen next.

"Just like a soap opera, you have to wait until the next chapter," Petersen said.

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