FLDS kids tug at officer's heart

Idaho State Journal/August 29, 2014

By Michael H. O’Donnell

Pocatello -- Bannock County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Toni Vollmer has been handling child protective custody investigations for two decades. But her involvement with the recent Fundamentalist LDS Church case was new ground.

Vollmer was the officer-in-charge who did a warrant search of the house on Clifford Drive in Pocatello on July 10 and took nine boys, between the ages of 11 and 17, into protective custody.

The boys and the 47-year-old in charge of them, Nathan Jessop, were all serving a “repentance mission” for the cult led by the imprisoned Warren Jeffs. They were all from the Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., area known as Short Creek by the FLDS.

The boys were receiving special lessons and home schooling to correct their behaviors — things like texting girls or secretly watching movies. They had been moved from homes near Downey, then in rural Power County and finally in Pocatello. Many of them had not seen their families in more than two years.

Vollmer said she was surprised when the mothers showed up for an Aug. 11 child protective custody hearing and one of the moms didn’t recognize her own son.

“It’s a learning experience,” Vollmer said about her exposure to the FLDS. “We’re not here to judge people on their religion. We were just concerned about the kids.”

And it was a spartan existence that Vollmer discovered when she visited the Clifford Avenue home. There was little furniture. Beds had no sheets and sometimes they were just mattresses on the floor. One room contained folding chairs with a podium and a large picture of Warren Jeffs on the wall behind it — the sole decoration in the house.

“The food was locked up,” Vollmer said.

That didn’t keep some of the boys from getting out of the house and exploring the outside world. Vollmer said that is when Jessop starting losing control.

The deputy said one thing really struck her about the youngsters.

“These boys were cute kids, polite kids, but they were on edge,” Vollmer said.

The veteran office also said the case has left a lasting impression.

“When we work these cases from start to finish, we’re very invested,” Vollmer said touching her heart. “They tug at you.”

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