A culture of child sexual abuse existed at a West Texas ranch run by polygamists that was searched by police last week, state child welfare officials allege in court documents released Tuesday.
The raid – which resulted in more than 400 youngsters being taken into protective custody – occurred after a 16-year-old girl reported she was beaten and raped. The documents also provide new details about her conversations with police.
An affidavit filed by state officials depicts a religious culture rife with sexual abuse of young teenage girls. Texas Child welfare officials allege that for generations, women in the polygamist group were taught to prepare themselves and their daughters for sexual relations with older men as soon as they reached puberty.
"Investigators determined that there is a widespread pattern and practice of the (Yearn for Zion) Ranch in which young, minor female residents are conditioned to expect and accept sexual activity with adult men at the ranch upon being spiritually married to them," stated the affidavit signed by Lynn McFadden, an investigative supervisor with the Department of Family and Protective Services.
The court documents also describe a desperate 16-year-old girl's whispered calls to authorities. Using a borrowed cell phone, she told of being raped by her 50-year-old "spiritual husband," and then beaten until her ribs were broken and she had to be taken to an emergency room. The girl, who is alleged to have given birth to a child at the age of 15, has still not been located by authorities.
Patrick Crimmins of Texas Child Protective Services says, "That investigation determined that there was either abuse or neglect that already occurred, or abuse or neglect that could be occurring in the particular household that we were investigating. This household happened to be very, very massive and contained not two or three or four children, but more than 400."
The occupation and search began Friday, and the Associated Press reported that at least two FBI agents were seen entering the back entrance of the compound's 80-foot-high temple on Tuesday.
The homes at the ranch run by the polygamist group, known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, consist of large three-story buildings, each with scores of bedrooms. Outbuildings are scattered around the ranch, and the gleaming white temple sits in the center.
The women and children who lived there had been virtually isolated from direct contact with people outside the faith. They're now being housed in former Army barracks inside a historic Western Fort built in 1867, which is surrounded by TV trucks, white dishes pointed at the sky.
The raid and removal of children was unprecedented in scope, but not in context. During a standoff with U.S. officials in 1993, David Koresh released all of the children from the Branch Davidian religious sect's complex in Waco, Texas, that were not his own. But the action in El Dorado is on a scale many times the size of that intervention.
To remove and take custody of 401 children from different families, the state must have cause. A state judge has granted Child Protective Services temporary custody, which gives the agency 14 days to put together its evidence and go to court.
Because the state took every female child from the ranch, it is likely to argue that the parents' polygamist beliefs constitute jeopardy for under-age sexual abuse. Lawyers for the polygamist group filed a motion this weekend protesting that the search warrant was too broad and too vague, thus unconstitutional.
A news conference Tuesday became a little testy as some reporters asked Child Protective Services spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner what right the state had to take so many children from so many families.
"You're ripping families apart and you're not explaining to us what is the real reason for it," one reporter asked.
Meisner replied, "I can tell you it that it was certainly enough that a district judge in the state of Texas determined that these children were at risk, and judges in Texas don't take those accusations lightly."
Merrill Jessop, a presiding elder of the polygamist group, also complained about the children's removal.
"There needs to be a public outcry. The hauling off of women and children matches anything in Russia and Germany," Jessop told the Salt Lake City Tribune.
Two members of the polygamist group were arrested at the ranch earlier this week, one charged with interfering with police and the other with destroying evidence.