Town near raided ranch unwelcoming of sect's return

Scipps Howard News Service/May 23, 2008

El dorado, Texas - The news that hundreds of children could soon return to a compound run by a polygamous group near here brought an unhappy reception from the YFZ Ranch's neighboring community.

Eldorado residents expressed skepticism that evidence of abuse is lacking. Some said they won't be welcoming the sect members -- who are scattered across the state trying to stay with their children -- back to Schleicher County with open arms.

Gabe Rodriguez said no one likes the idea of children being taken from their parents, but he said he is wary of allowing the children to return so soon.

"Let's do the job right," he said. "It's a long, drawn-out process, but we're there. Let's finish the process."

Rodriguez said it's unfortunate that Eldorado is getting attention only because of the raid on the ranch of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He said the Eldorado High School sports teams have done the best ever, with a winning season in every sport.

"It's not fair to our kids," Rodriguez said. "There's more to Eldorado than this."

A van parked in a convenience store on Thursday afternoon in Eldorado echoed Rodriguez's sentiments. Writing on the windows had the word "Polygamists" scrolled on it, with a box and an X through it, and a frowning face at the end. The words "Eagle softball" had a check mark in front of them, and then "2008 playoffs."

Joshua Chavez, who lives in Eldorado, said that as long as sect members don't bother him, he's fine with them, and if there are no signs of abuse, it's good that the children might get to return.

"I don't stay involved," he said.

Chavez said he works on a ranch that borders the sect property. When he and others are working close to the property line, sect members drive by with rifles strapped to their four-wheelers.

Helen Pfluger, who helped the sect women and children get situated in temporary shelters shortly after the early April raid by the state, said it would be a travesty if the children were able to return to the ranch now.

"Nothing will have changed," she said.

An FLDS man recently told the media that sect members now want to obtain voter registration cards in Schleicher County. Pfluger said that has been one of the city's concerns for as long as the sect has been there.

"They have never been active in the local government, so we never had any problems," said Pfluger, who lives three miles west of Eldorado.

"With this," Pfluger said, "church and state are so intertwined that you can't separate it."

As a result of the raid, Eldorado residents won't be so nonchalant about having the polygamist sect in the county, Pfluger said.

"It's a whole world we have no concept of," she said, "and they're living four miles from Eldorado."

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