Woman who fled polygamous sect tries for new life

The Arizona Republic/October 21, 2007

Fawn Broadbent woke in her basement bedroom to the sound of people talking upstairs.

She pulled on a sweater and a floral skirt that reached her ankles but with a slit up the side - taboo in Colorado City where women wear long traditional dresses.

She went upstairs to where her parents and several brothers and sisters were talking in frightened voices. When she asked what was going on, her father wouldn't tell her.

She went to the refrigerator, pulled out a hotdog and took a bite.

"We're fasting," her father yelled.

"Well, I'm not," she said.

Her mother explained what happened. But Fawn didn't want to hear any more. She went outside and crossed the street to see her best friend.

The girl was named Fawn Holm, and she lived in a trailer with five of the 34 children born to her father's three wives. Both girls were 16 and shared the same first name, red hair and rebellious streak.

The girls went for a walk, talking about the prophet's latest act: That morning at the Saturday work meeting, Warren Jeffs had excommunicated 20 men, stripped them of their wives, children and property. He ordered the rest of his followers to fast for two days, stay at home and repent.

Jeffs was the voice of God in this polygamist sect. He said the Lord had revealed these men as "master deceivers." The banished men included the town's longtime mayor, influential elders and four of Jeffs' own brothers. One was the father-in-law of Fawn's sister. Another was married to two of her aunts.

The girls walked a couple of miles across town, through the hodgepodge of unfinished homes, old trailers and mansions. They crossed the border that splits the town between Arizona and Utah, walking up a winding street that ended at the red cliffs on the Utah side of town.

Fawn Holm pulled out a cellphone and made a call. The girls decided to keep going.

Two years earlier, when Fawn Broadbent turned 14, her father entered her name in the "Joy Book," the register of young women ready for an arranged marriage.

Mathew Broadbent had not yet been granted a second wife but asked his daughter whether she would prefer to be in a single or a plural marriage. Fawn said she didn't want to marry at all.

In Colorado City, members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints live in intentional isolation and believe salvation depends on "celestial marriages" of men to multiple women.

Fawn's two older sisters were married within hours of being told whom they would wed. One sister was just 16 when she became the 23rd wife of Winston Blackmore, an FLDS leader in Canada. When Blackmore fell out of favor, Jeffs reassigned her to another man.

A few months after being listed in the Joy Book, Fawn told her father she wanted to leave Colorado City. Three older brothers already had left, labeled apostates by the faithful. Fawn's father told her they were dead.

Fawn didn't know any girls who had left. But she'd heard stories: Girls chased down by their families and brought back. Ruined girls, pregnant or prostitutes in the outside world.

Fawn's father told her she had to ask the prophet for permission to go. Fawn called Jeffs and said that she didn't believe in him anymore and that it was wrong to tear families apart. Jeffs told Fawn's father she had to stay two years. Then if she still wanted to leave, she could go.

So Fawn braided her long red hair and wore the traditional dresses. She volunteered at the community day care. She did everything she could to "keep sweet," the church's term for the absolute obedience required of women.

But it didn't last. She dropped out of the church-sponsored school. She got a job with the church telephone company, then waiting tables, then in a church factory where she canned gel for fire-starter logs.

On rare trips to nearby St. George, Utah, Fawn bought forbidden magazines and CDs. Driving her mother's minivan on errands, she blasted rap and heavy-metal music. People in the community called her a troublemaker. Friends weren't allowed to talk to her. She took long walks to the edge of town where the quiet of the fields and cliffs could consume her.

Sometimes her friend Fawn Holm joined her. They hung out together at the park, carving dirty words into the benches and talking to boys. One day they took Catherine Broadbent's minivan and went to their first movie in St. George. They bought pants and wore them around Colorado City together. People leaned out the windows of their cars and called them whores.

Fawn didn't care.

Her father locked her in her room. He grounded her. He burned the CDs in a bonfire and took away the pants. He told her she would go to hell.

When the two years were up, Fawn told her father she wanted to leave. Jeffs said Fawn needed to wait another two years.

Flora Jessop roared into Hurricane, Utah, at the wheel of a white Suburban wearing tight blue jeans, boots and a studded black leather jacket, a 9 mm pistol strapped to her hip, another pistol in her hand and three television reporters in tow.

Flora was an anti-polygamy activist who had driven all day from Phoenix to pick up Fawn and her friend and planned to turn around and drive all the way back.

The girls had called a boy Fawn Holm knew in St. George for a ride and stayed two nights with a friend's mother in St. George. They called their mothers to let them know they were safe.

Fawn told her mother: "I'm not coming home. For good."

"Please don't do this to me, Fawn," Catherine Broadbent said.

The receiver shook in Fawn's hand. She hung up sobbing.

The friend's mother called an anti-polygamy group, which put her in touch with Flora. They arranged for Flora to meet the girls in Hurricane as the police had been searching for them in St. George.

Flora fled Colorado City 20 years earlier. She railed against Jeffs and the church in the media. From the pulpit, Jeffs called Flora an apostate who took orders directly from Satan.

When Flora swept in the house with the television crew, Fawn thought she looked like superwoman. Flora said if they left with her, there would be no turning back. She would do whatever she could to protect them, starting with the television cameras. If authorities tried to send them back to Colorado City, the world would be watching.

The girls were shy at first. Then, on camera, Fawn explained why she wanted to leave: "I don't want to become some 50-year-old man's wife or something like that."

Flora said it was time to go. Fawn climbed into the backseat, curled up against the door and stared out at the full-moon night. Flora drove the long way, through Las Vegas, where they had breakfast in the middle of the night. Then both girls fell asleep as Flora drove south.

Hours later, passing through Wickenburg just after sunrise, Flora dialed the cellphone of a contact in the Arizona Attorney General's Office. She wanted the state to protect the girls.

"I've got two girls," Flora said when he answered. "And now I'm going to tell you how it's going to be."

When Fawn fled Colorado City in January 2004, Warren Jeffs had been in power for three years. His ascension to prophet was controversial. Men who questioned his authority were banished. Law enforcement in Utah and Arizona were investigating allegations of fraud, child abuse and underage marriages. Rumors spread of weapons stockpiled in caves outside town. Jeffs disappeared for a time and then returned to banish 20 of the most powerful men in town. Law-enforcement officials thought a war might develop within the sect.

National media coverage increased, and Flora Jessop did one interview after another. She predicted more children would flee.

Flora was 16 when she ran away, three weeks into a forced marriage to her first cousin. She hitchhiked to the Midwest and, in August 1986, ended up on CBS' 60 Minutes giving one of the first accounts of life inside the polygamist sect.

She took off again, lived on the streets, ate out of dumpsters, got addicted to cocaine. Then she became pregnant and worked as a stripper to support her daughter. In Phoenix, she married and focused on raising her child. Until her sister called in 2001.

Ruby was 14. She told Flora she'd been raped by her new husband and wanted to leave Colorado City. Flora fought to get Ruby out but failed. Flora never heard from her again.

Flora founded a non-profit advocacy group dedicated to helping girls like her sister. But no girls emerged.

When she got a call about two girls named Fawn, it was the call she had been waiting for.

Fawn stood in the thrift store not sure where to start. So many clothes. So many colors and styles.

"What should we get?" Fawn asked Flora.

"Whatever you want," Flora said. "You have to wear the clothes, not me."

The girls had left Colorado City with only the clothes they were wearing. So just hours after arriving at a safe house in Glendale and meeting the woman who would take care of them, they went shopping.

For the first time Fawn could wear whatever she wanted. She picked out blue jeans and T-shirts, including a red shirt, a forbidden color [...].

In the changing room, the girls took turns modeling their outfits. They traded clothes, called each other sexy and burst into laughter when the clothes looked terrible.

Back at the safe house they unpacked the bags and tried all the clothes on again.

Then they settled into a sofa bed in the living room for the night, watching videos of Disney movies they'd never been allowed to see. They didn't talk much, exhausted from the day.

Fawn fell asleep watching Cinderella.

The girls were taken in by Candice Miracle, a divorced mother of two and a bluegrass singer with long blond hair and a bubbly personality.

As Flora negotiated for a meeting with Child Protective Services, Fawn hung out at the house with her friend. They talked with Candice and watched television. Fawn liked to watch the news. They cranked up the stereo and played Sheryl Crow's Soak up the Sun over and over again. Both girls started calling Candice "Mom."

The first meeting with Child Protective Services did not go well. The girls were interviewed for hours by a succession of psychologists, social workers and attorneys. Flora demanded the girls be allowed to stay with Candice but began to suspect CPS wanted to send them to a shelter for the night. So when the caseworker turned her back, Flora snuck the girls out of the building and drove off.

A second meeting the next day went better. At the end of the girls' first week at Candice's house, a Maricopa County judge granted an emergency order awarding Candice temporary custody, citing a threat of forced marriage or abuse if they were returned to their homes.

That night, the girls and Flora celebrated at Candice's house with a barbecue. For the first time since fleeing Colorado City, Fawn felt that she was really free.

Hidden in the backseat of a truck, Fawn stared nervously across the parking lot, waiting to meet the couple who wanted to take her in.

Her friend Fawn Holm's older brother, Carl, and his wife, Joni, had seen the girls' story on TV. Carl tracked Flora down by phone and said he wanted to help his sister. A few days after the girls arrived in the Valley, Carl and Joni drove down from Salt Lake City to meet them.

Flora worried that family members might try to take the girls back to Colorado City, so she arranged to meet Carl and Joni in the parking lot of a West Valley mall. The girls waited out of sight with Candice. If anything seemed suspicious, Candice was to drive them immediately to another safe house in Colorado.

When Carl pulled up, Flora told him to take off his sunglasses so she could see his eyes. She peppered him with questions about polygamy, Colorado City and why he had left the sect.

Satisfied, she reminded Carl that she thought the girls needed each other and didn't want them separated.

"This is a package deal. Are you willing to take them both?" she asked.

"Yes, of course," Carl said.

"It's the right thing to do," his wife added.

Flora signaled to Candice to bring them over.

Carl and his little sister hugged. Fawn hung back, unsure what to do.

Joni came over. She told Fawn about their home in Utah, her four daughters, her dog. Fawn stared at the ground.

"This is pretty scary stuff, huh?" Joni asked.

"Yeah," Fawn said.

Fawn's flight from Colorado City became a running story in newspapers, magazines and on television around the country and overseas. Publicity turned to politics. A bill was introduced in the Arizona Legislature making spiritual marriages to underage girls a crime. Attorney General Terry Goddard announced that he would put state investigators in Colorado City, and he was working with the FBI to place Warren Jeffs on the Most Wanted list.

Fawn was restrained in interviews. She told reporters she didn't want to get married. She wanted an education. She wanted to be free. Flora gave her own interviews and set up more with the girls, which irked Child Protective Services caseworkers.

Fawn believed Flora that media exposure would force state officials to do the right thing.

State officials accused Flora of exploiting the girls.

And so did their parents.

A week after the judge said the girls could stay with Candice, there was a loud knock at the door.

Fawn Holm peered out the front window and screamed.

"Our parents are here! Our parents are here!"

Fawn Broadbent ducked and ran down the hall. Candice dialed 911. The girls jumped into a closet and hid behind the clothes.

Flora had arrived just a few minutes before. With both sets of parents outside, she pulled out her 9 mm pistol as Mathew Broadbent pounded on the door and shook the handle.

The parents had gone to court to fight for their daughters' return and talked to a few reporters. They denied allegations of abuse and underage marriage. They said the girls just didn't like rules. Fawn's father told a Utah paper his daughter was "champing at the bit" to get married when she was 14, but he didn't think she was ready.

Glendale police arrived. Candice brought out the court order granting her temporary custody and barring the parents from contact with the girls. The officers told the parents to leave.

After the Broadbents' maroon minivan pulled out of the driveway, Flora and Candice found the girls still huddled in the closet, clutching each other and crying. The girls wouldn't come out.

"Are they really gone?" Fawn asked. "Can you go and check again?"

The girls' parents continued to fight. Next they petitioned the court to bar Flora from seeing the girls and won.

But even as the court order was being processed, Flora took the girls out for the weekend to celebrate Fawn's 17th birthday. In a hotel room, she laid out her fears and the girls' options.

State officials had said that they couldn't guarantee the girls wouldn't be sent back to their parents by the court. Another girl who fled Colorado City already had been sent home. Flora didn't trust Child Protective Services to help anymore. So the girls could stick it out with Candice and risk being sent home or run again.

Fawn trusted Flora. Both girls wrote letters, blaming Child Protective Services for their decision to flee. Flora arranged a place for them to stay in Colorado. Then she called the Attorney General's Office. Weeping, Flora said that the girls had run away and that she had no idea where they were.

Fawn and her friend spent two weeks hiding with a family in Colorado, and then Flora and Joni drove them to Salt Lake City. They moved back and forth between two homes. And they began to drink.

Joni found out. She had enough of the girls hiding out. She didn't care anymore about the threat of kidnapping charges. She went to her neighbors and negotiated escape routes. If the police came, the girls might have to run again.

But for now she was going to take them home.

A month later, tired of fighting, Fawn's parents gave in and granted Carl and Joni Holm power of attorney. Fawn could live with them. Fawn's parents did not admit any wrongdoing. They said they were worried about their daughter's safety. Colorado City parents weren't supposed to allow apostate children into their homes. But Fawn's mother persuaded her father to let Fawn come to pick up her things and even stay the night. Fawn missed her mother and brothers and sisters terribly but was scared they would pressure her to stay.

In April, Carl and Joni drove Fawn back to Colorado City. A sign in a window of her parents' home said those who do not believe in Warren Jeffs are not welcome. Carl and Joni dropped Fawn off and then waited by the phone in a Hurricane hotel in case she needed them.

Fawn's mother and little sisters helped her pack. Heart-shaped earrings her mother had given her. A denim jacket from her older brother that she planned to give to her own daughter. A string of imitation pearls that had belonged to her grandmother. Scrapbooks filled with family pictures, embellished with glitter and stickers. Fawn gave her old dresses to Jenny, the next oldest girl, and divided toys and other trinkets among her other 13 brothers and sisters.

That night, Fawn's father slept on the couch so Fawn could sleep with her mother and the youngest children, something Fawn did when her father was gone and her mother needed help with a baby.

As Fawn and her mom settled onto the bed, 7-year-old Millie and 4-year-old Amelia squeezed in between. Nearby was a bassinet with the baby brother born a few months before Fawn left, named Warren after the prophet.

Fawn lay awake in the dark with Millie in her arms, unable to sleep. She thought about what her life would have been here, married and starting her own family. She regretted hurting her mother. She wished she could convince them to leave.

The next morning Fawn loaded her things into Carl's car. As Fawn said goodbye, Millie clung to her legs and begged her not to go.

Fawn climbed into the backseat, her stuff piled around her, and waited until the house was out of sight before she started to cry.

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