Elissa Wall on 'What it Was Like to Die'

The Woman Who Stood Up to Warren Jeffs Shares Her Story

ABC News/May 13, 2008

In a remote corner of the Nevada desert, the darkest secret of a polygamist sect unfolds under cover at a roadside motel. Underage girls, some as young as 14, are forced through hasty weddings and secret ceremonies.

"It was done covertly. Real 'cloak and dagger' like," said Sam Brower, a private detective who has investigated the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and its leader, Warren Jeffs, for the past five years.

"Carloads of people would get here," said Brower, who has worked for a number of former sect members. "They'd unload, they'd wait and then when their turn came up they would be taken into Room 15 in the hotel and a marriage was performed."

Elissa Wall was one such 14-year-old girl who was plucked from childhood and thrust into wedlock, with no choice but to accept and obey the command of her prophet.

"I was trapped," recalled Wall, who is now in her early 20s. "I felt like I had nowhere to turn. I so bad did not want to go through with marriage. I felt honestly what it was like to die."

"I remember thinking & 'if there's somewhere to run, I would.' But there wasn't. There was nowhere to go. And I had to cross this threshold, and that was the day that truly changed my life," she said.

Before that fateful night seven years ago, when her teenage hell began, Wall seemed to be the model of a happy child in a large polygamous family. Her father, his three wives and their 25 children were all faithful followers of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints . She attended a church school in Salt Lake City whose principal was none other than Warren Jeffs, the future prophet.

Jeffs ensured the school's curriculum was filled with church doctrine, and he burned science books. According to Wall, his draconian moral code prohibited popular music, dancing, hand holding, dating and sex education. All contact between males and females was banned.

"He was the one that would teach us in school that boys are poisonous snakes," Wall said in an interview with ABC correspondent John Quinones. "That we were to keep ourselves distant from them, and that would keep us, as girls, clean."

As he became more powerful, Jeffs tightened his grip further, commanding all church members to move to Colorado City, Ariz., and await the end of the world.

Pretty soon Wall's world would come crashing down when her faith betrayed her and she was ultimately forced into marriage.

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