Eldorado, Texas - After four years of quietly building a polygamous enclave in west Texas, the fundamentalist FLDS sect has been sundered by a major state raid that by Saturday had brought out 183 boys, girls and women for questioning about their well-being.
Spurred by a report of physical abuse at the compound on Monday, Texas law enforcement and child welfare workers have scoured the compound for evidence that the women and children were in peril.
As of Saturday, 18 of the girls remained in state custody, meaning they are considered to be under threat of physical, mental or sexual abuse, or of neglect, said Marleigh Meisner, spokeswoman for the Texas Child Protective Service. The state had found foster families for them, but they had not been moved by Saturday evening, she said.
The remainder - 79 girls, 40 boys and 46 women - were being housed, questioned and cared for by CPS investigators at the Schleicher County Civic Center and the town's First Baptist Church, whose members offered food, supplies and comfort.
"The kids are doing remarkably well," Meisner said. "We're really, really trying to be aware that their whole world has changed. And be sensitive to the fact that we've taken them from their surroundings."
As for the girl who made the complaint Monday, Meisner said, "I cannot confirm that we have found" her.
Law enforcement and court officials on Saturday declined to speak about the investigation; 51st District Judge Barbara Walther earlier issued a gag order. Nathan Butler of San Angelo, attorney for the FLDS in Eldorado, also declined to comment.
A hearing is scheduled Monday in juvenile court to consider what to do with the children in state custody.
The abuse report that triggered the investigation resulted in a warrant being issued for Dale Evans Barlow, who is being investigated for purportedly marrying and impregnating a 16-year-old girl in Eldorado.
However, Barlow, of Colorado City, Ariz. - which with Hildale, Utah, is the traditional home base of the FLDS - said he has no knowledge of the girl, his probation officer said Saturday.
Barlow is one of eight Colorado City men charged in Arizona in 2005 of marrying underage girls and committing sex crimes. He pleaded no contest in April 2007 to conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor, and a second charge was dropped. The victim was a 16-year-old girl with whom he had a son.
Barlow was later sentenced to 45 days in jail and three years on probation. (See sidebar)
On Saturday, Meisner said it remained unknown if the 16-year-old and her 8-month-old daughter were among those taken out of the compound.
Late Saturday, four of the 31 CPS investigators on the case were looking for more children at the compound on the sect's YFZ Ranch, a 1,691-acre spread where the FLDS have constructed housing, work buildings, a dairy and an imposing limestone temple since arriving in 2004.
"They are trying to go from building to building with law enforcement trying to find other children that might still be in the compound," Meisner said, adding that the adults there had been cooperative.
The raid began with orders from Judge Walther, who instructed officials to bring all children, including boys 17 and under, out of the compound.
"We are working and speaking almost hourly with the judge," Meisner said.
The Texas raid inevitably evoked the infamous 1953 raid on Short Creek, Ariz., which now is known as the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
In that case, Arizona authorities carried out a predawn July raid on Short Creek, ultimately arresting or taking into custody 388 people, including 39 men, 86 women and close to 200 children.
Officials in Utah and Arizona claimed the "nest of polygamy" had been wiped out. But news reports showing photos of children being yanked from their parents created a backlash that eventually forced Arizona Gov. Howard Pyle out of office.
By the end of 1953, most of the men had returned to Short Creek after pledging to give up polygamy and being placed on probation. But it took two years for the women and children, most of whom were declared wards of the state, to go home.
The public outrage led to a hands-off public policy regarding polygamy for the next 50 years.
In 2000, however, after FLDS leaders rejected calls from Utah and Arizona to stop marriages between men and underaged girls, the two states took action. Utah took over the sect's United Effort Trust, which holds ownership of all the land and buildings in the twin towns, and Arizona temporarily took over the Colorado City Unified School District.
By 2002, Warren S. Jeffs took over for his ailing father Rulon Jeffs, and the sect remained intransigent about its marriage practices.
Since then, the sect has settled into Hildale and Colorado City, established outposts in Texas, South Dakota and Colorado. An earlier Canadian settlement near Creston, B.C., flourishes today.