Officials Using DNA to Sort Polygamy Sect Kids

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Authorities are working to match children from a polygamous sect in West Texas with their biological mothers. Terri Langford of the Houston Chronicle delivers the latest developments after a raid of the compound in El Dorado.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Thanks, Mark. Another news story we've been following, the story of the polygamous compound in west Texas. News reports this week say that the call that provoked that raid on the polygamous sect may have been a hoax. The phone used to make a distress call to a family shelter belongs to a 30-year-old woman with a history of calling authorities and posing as an abuse victim. This news was breaking as hundreds of children removed from the ranch, called the Yearning for Zion Ranch, were being relocated into temporary foster care.

Meanwhile, Texas authorities are preparing to analyze the samples of DNA that they've taken from the children and their parents. The state will use the DNA to establish which child belongs to which parent which has been really hard to figure out. Here to discuss these developments in this story is Terri Langford. She's a reporter with the Houston Chronicle, and she's been covering the story since the beginning. Hey, Terri.

Ms. TERRI LANGFORD (Reporter, Houston Chronicle): Hi.

MARTIN: Thanks for joining us. So, there's so much going on. First, let's start with the reports about this woman who may have made that phone call triggering this series of events. Early reports say she didn't have any known ties to the FLDS, right? What else do we know?

Ms. LANGFORD: Not much. Texas authorities, the Department of Public Safety and the Texas Rangers, are being pretty close mouthed about that. She's still a person of interest. She was arrested on an investigation of a false report and has been released. She's 33-years-old. Like you said, has a history of posing as an abuse victim, but she was very convincing, not only to a women's shelter, if this is, in fact, her who made the call, but also to former polygamous members who were convinced that this person was real.

MARTIN: So, again, we have - there's no evidence indicating that she has made this call?

Ms. LANGFORD: No, she does have a history, but the final tie to her making the call, if it has been made, it hasn't been released by authorities, yet.

MARTIN: Terri, if it emerges, though, that the trigger mechanism for this series of events, for the raid on the compound, is questionable. Does that affect the state's case of abuse, or do they say listen, we've already gone in there, we found what we deem to be evidence of abuse?

Ms. LANGFORD: Well, that's the question at the heart of this. CPS, Child Protective Services for Texas, insists that while the call may have gotten them to the gate of the ranch, it's what they found at the ranch that sparked the removal of the children. Now, they're - some lawyers say that it does have an effect, and that anything that they found may be in question, but CPS, who has been consulting their own lawyers on this, has said, no, that's not the case.

So, this will, again, be something I think that comes up once, again, by the fifth of June when each child's case comes before the same judge in west Texas and whether that child can be returned home or not.

MARTIN: There are also some reports that say Texas authorities have now identified 25 more mothers from the ranch. They've discovered that they're underaged girls.

Ms. LANGFORD: Right. And that has always been the case. At the hearing last week, CPS said there were at least 25 girls, 20 to 25, who they had questions on whether they were underage or not. Somehow they have confirmed that these women are underage, and now they're moving to foster care as well.

MARTIN: So, what about everyone else? Where physically are these now 460 minors?

Ms. LANGFORD: Well, a couple hundred, I think, are still in the stadium, but about half have already been moved into foster care. So, about 200 and some have already been moved into foster care, and the state is preparing today to remove the rest.

MARTIN: Now, I understand there were some allowances for trying to keep families together, siblings or moms who were nursing their babies. Is that the case?

Ms. LANGFORD: That is the case. The state is trying as best as they can. These are large families to keep as many sibling groups together. And one of the ways they're doing that is not putting any child in an individual foster home where there's just two parents and a home, an individual's home, but they've earmarked something like 16 residential foster homes, these are large facilities with lots of beds, and you can put a large sibling group in there. That's the way they're doing it right now.

MARTIN: So, the FLDS is not taking this sitting down. They've actually developed a Web site, they've created a Web site to put their case out to the public. They've held press conferences, coming off as very media savvy for a group of people, a sect, that has so disavowed modernity to a certain extent.

Ms. LANGFORD: I mean, they've been portrayed as reclusive, but reclusive doesn't mean they weren't without computers. It's not like they don't acknowledge the outside world, and they've been doing, I think, a very good public relations campaign to present their side, and the Web site is evidence of that.

MARTIN: How is their message being received? They've been using these tools to gin up some sympathy? Is it working?

Ms. LANGFORD: I think it is. I think, from what our readers are saying, what people are saying on blogs, what the public is saying at large, a lot of people, while they don't condone child abuse, they don't understand why 400 - over 450 children were taken from this ranch.

MARTIN: Let's talk a little bit about the legal situation. You've done some reporting about the difficulties that these lawyers representing these kids are facing. What are they saying? What is their biggest complaint or obstacle in representing their clients?

Ms. LANGFORD: Well, I think, first, they're having a hard time with figuring out who's - like CPS, who's related to their child, who's the parent, so that they can talk to the parent and find out more information about the care of the child through the parent. I think it's also - their complaint has been that all these cases have been - were heard en masse, meaning that all of the cases were heard at one time. I think what the public has to keep in mind, it was an emergency hearing. It's not the final hearing on this matter, and the judge had, pretty much, no choice but to hear more than 400 cases at one time and make a ruling. Now, she says that by June fifth, she'll be hearing each individual case...

MARTIN: So, that means that each child, each client is going to have their full hearing...

Ms. LANGFORD: Their day.

MARTIN: Which is, that can be days, though, for each child.

Ms. LANGFORD: It could be. The thing is, though, what a lot of people don't understand, these are not full blown trials. These are, typically in juvenile court, these kinds of hearings are an hour or less. This is not a lot of evidence. It's just enough to find out what reasons CPS had for taking this particular child and whether the evidence stands up to proceed from there.

MARTIN: And finally, a hearing, I understand, has been scheduled for next Tuesday. What happens then?

Ms. LANGFORD: That's in the Appeals Court in Austin, and that has to do with the mothers and the church have said - they have filed a motion that they shouldn't be separated from their children. That judge in west Texas said, no, they do have to be separated at this time. Lawyers for the church aren't holding out any kind of hope that the court will rule in their favor after the fact. But they're pleased with the fact that the court is going to listen to arguments anyway.

MARTIN: Well, the story is definitely not going away any time soon. We'll probably visit with you again. Terri Langford is a reporter with the Houston Chronicle. Terri, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Ms. LANGFORD: Thank you.

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