Texarkana - At a hearing on the custody status of two girls removed from Tony Alamo's religious compound in southwest Arkansas, a 14-yearold girl testified that Alamo had touched her inappropriately, and an 18-year-old man described beatings at the hands of another church member.
The girl told Miller County Circuit Court Judge Jim Hudson during the first day of a hearing to determine whether the two girls should remain in foster care that she was showering about two years ago when Alamo placed a hand over her mouth and began to touch her.
"He said don't tell anybody what happened here or I'll have John (Kolbeck ) beat you and I'll take care of you," the girl said softly. "Nobody would've believed me, anyway. Everybody thinks he's a prophet here." The girls, along with four others, were removed from the compound in Fouke after a Sept. 20 raid by federal and state authorities investigating allegations that children at the compound had been physically and sexually abused.
The 14-year-old who testified Monday was not one of those who was removed, but an attorney with the Department of Human Services called her to testify to show that the girls were at risk in an environment where sexual and physical abuse was prevalent, Hudson said. Their parents are accused of failing to adequately protect and supervise them, he said.
The girl who testified Monday lived in Fort Smith on Alamo property until she was 11.
After a visit to the Fouke "outpost," she was moved into the main house where Alamo primarily resides, she testified.
In April, she contacted relatives in another state and asked Alamo for a bus ticket.
"I would see him lie. He would get donations for 'Arms Full of Help' and then they'd sell the stuff," the girl said. "I didn't think he was a prophet." The girl testified she worked in the Fouke office for six or more hours a day. Months-long gaps in her education were deemed necessary because she was needed to work, the girl said.
The girl said she was "kicked out" and made to live next door in the "green house" about two months after moving into Alamo's house in Fouke.
"He calls it the house of scorn," the girl said. "He puts us there when we do something wrong." Fasting was another means of discipline Alamo would order, the girl said.
"We couldn't have anything except some water or black coffee," she said.
Being deprived of food for three to seven days was a common occurrence, the girl alleged.
The girls who lived in the main house, called the "schooling mission," were either working so late into the night they resided there out of convenience or were among Alamo's wives, said the young witness.
"They all wear wedding rings. They go into his room at night and close the door. They're the only ones that do that," the girl said.
She listed eight names, in cluding legally married Sharon Alamo, as being the "sisters in the house." A Feb. 28 CD that contains denials of sexual and physical abuse by the witness, her sisters and other girls was coached, the girl said Monday.
"Tony told us what he was go ing to ask us and what we were supposed to say," the girl testi fied.
The girl also described being beaten by John Kolbeck, Alamo' alleged enforcer, as she was bent over a chair while being held down by his wife.
The 18-year-old, whom Hudson declined to identify, testified that he had been beaten by Kolbeck in the Fort Smith area. Authorities have said Kolbeck is wanted on charges of second-degree battery in the beating of a teenage church member at warehouse in Fort Smith earlier this year.
During the September raid, all six girls were found inside Alamo's house in the compound, Hudson said. He said he didn't know if that's where they lived.
Alamo, 74, was arrested five days after the raid on charges that he had transported a girl across state lines for sexual purposes. It was unclear Monday whether that is the same girl who testified at the hearing.
At the end of the hearing, which will continue Thursday, Hudson will decide whether the girls should stay in foster care, be placed with relatives or be returned to their parents, possibly with conditions.
A similar hearing for the other four girls - two pairs of sisters - will begin today before Miller County Circuit Judge Joe Griffin.
Monday's hearing was closed to the public, and most reporters weren't even allowed to wait inside the juvenile court building as witnesses testified in a closed courtroom. But Hudson made an exception for a Texarkana Gazette reporter. Hudson allowed her to sit in the courtroom and listen to the testimony on the condition that she not print any information that could identify the girls.
Hudson said he wanted to be "as transparent as possible in a case with broad public interest" and contribute to the public's understanding of the juvenile court system while protecting the girls' identities.
At a hearing in September, Hudson issued an order allowing the temporary placement of two girls in foster care, and the parents of the other four girls waived their rights to probable cause hearings.
At the start of Monday's hearing, Hudson denied a motion by the parents to delay the hearing and granted a motion to consolidate the cases. He heard opening statements from the attorneys and testimony from the two witnesses before adjourning for the day at about 6: 30 p.m.
Each of the girls has been appointed an attorney, as well as a volunteer with the Court Appointed Special Advocate program to investigate and make recommendations. Danita Abernathy, director of the Court Appointed Special Advocate program for the Texarkana area, said the girls are "nervous, as we all would be, and anxious, but they are doing well."
Information for this article was contributed by Lynn LaRowe of the Texarkana Gazette