Attempt to get all family members out unsuccessful
By Brian Bethel
A Maryland man's attempts to extract family members from the House of Yahweh's
compound near Eula Saturday ended in a stalemate.
David Richardson, seeking to retrieve his wife and 14-year-old daughter,
approached the gates of the compound in the early afternoon but eventually
left without seeing either family member.
A series of tense moments erupted when Richardson and news media arrived
outside the gates with House of Yahweh members refusing to offer any comment
about the compound, a Passover feast going on inside, Richardson's wife,
Bonnie, or his daughter.
In an earlier foray into the compound, Richardson retrieved his two sons,
ages 12 and 6, from the complex's interior.
Video camera-wielding members of the sect took photographs of everything
from news vehicles to Richardson arguing with other members of the group.
A Callahan County sheriff's deputy arrived on the scene shortly after the
initial confrontation, speaking briefly to both sect members and Richardson
before ushering Richardson into his patrol vehicle.
After a brief consultation with the deputy, Richardson planned to enter
the compound to see his wife and daughter. Later in the day, he said his
attempt had met with failure.
"They wouldn't let me on the grounds," he said. "I'm taking
this pretty hard."
Attempts to contact the deputy through the Callahan County Sheriff's Department
Richardson, a former member of the sect, said he didn't attempt to obtain
a court order before trying to retrieve his family because he didn't think
he "would have to go to that extreme."
"I don't want to divorce my wife" or sunder his family, he said.
"Not at this point."
Richardson said his next step was to contact the FBI with information about
the sect, including the unsolved murder of a reported one-time Yahweh follower
four years ago in South Carolina.
He said he planned to take things "day by day," possibly staying
in Abilene or returning to his home in Maryland.
Richardson expressed great concern for his wife and daughter, telling guards
at the gate and others assembled that he wanted them "out of here"
before they could be "used" any more.
Richardson, 38, railed against Yisrayl Hawkins, a former Abilene policeman
who became the spiritual father of the House of Yahweh, saying he forced
sect members into lives of poverty and dependence.
"I have a 14-year-old daughter, and I don't know if they're going to
have her married off before long," Richardson said. "I want her
out of here before he comes up with another law" that could potentially
Bonnie Richardson recently changed her name to Biynyah Hawkins to match
that of the sect's leader. More than 100 followers have requested similar
name changes in recent months.
"My wife isn't aware of what they're doing to her mind," Richardson
said. "(Hawkins) just uses them, and they don't see what they're doing.
... She thinks if she leaves, she'll burn in hellfire."
Yisrayl Hawkins has not yet responded to requests for interviews with the
Abilene Reporter-News, despite repeated attempts. Followers at the scene
refused to comment.
In the past, blanket denials of all allegations against the sect have been
the rule for its members.
Tensions ran high on occasion between Richardson and guards outside the
gate Saturday, with the guards attempting to maintain a calm, cool veneer.
"What type of religion does things like this?" he asked one of
the guards, identified as Charlie Wilder. "You have to worship with
barbed wire, guards and walkie-talkies, looking like a Gestapo unit?"
Wilder replied, "Do I look like a Gestapo?"
"Wise up, Charlie," Richardson retorted. "This place is going
Richardson said he didn't plan to end the quest for his family any time
soon, citing his original beliefs, which he still holds, as the force that
keeps him going.
"Yahweh doesn't create wimps - he creates men," he said. "The
wimps are the ones in there who are hiding behind the gates."
(Senior Staff Writer Richard Horn contributed to this report.)
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