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Authorities look for more kids at W. Texas ranch

ELDORADO -- Authorities have now removed a total of 219 residents from the polygamous ranch and are continuing to look for more children in the remote secretive compound.

Of the 219 taken, 159 are children.

Most of Sunday was spent busing the residents 45 miles northward to Fort Concho in San Angelo.

But Child Protective Services spokeswoman Marliegh Meisner said they do not believe they have found all of the children. She also said investigators are uncertain whether they have the found the 16-year-old who started the investigation by making a complaint of physical abuse to authorities.

The morning after authorities entered the temple of the polygamous compound outside of Eldorado, 10 buses gathered outside the Schleicher County Courthouse and began transporting many of the residents taken from YFZ Ranch in West Texas to new locations.

About noon, six of the buses left Eldorado headed north under police escort. Four of them arrived at Fort Concho in San Angelo -- about 44 miles away -- around 12:50 p.m.

A little after 1 p.m., two of those buses headed back to Eldorado.

Law enforcement officials had said at the police roadblocks that Saturday night's search of the compound was productive.

After several anxious hours late Saturday, tensions eased at the YFZ Ranch as state troopers streamed past checkpoints and escorted another busload of girls from the secretive polygamist sect's compound.

Around 11 p.m., police scanner traffic indicated that authorities had "cleared" the church's temple and were moving to the compound's annex. There was no indication that authorities' search for children on the ranch was coming to a close.

Earlier in the evening, some of the sect's members refused to allow authorities to entering the church's massive white temple.

Allison Palmer, assistant district attorney for the 51st District, which includes Schleicher and Coke counties and part of Tom Green County, said that authorities "were preparing for all possibilities" and that ambulances and other equipment were on standby.

"This is a very sensitive area, and members of this church feel very strongly about nonmembers entering that area," Palmer said. "This is a very important to them. It is proving to be difficult to obtain their permission to enter that building."

Palmer credited Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran with obtaining the cooperation of the sect to allow the search to continue. She wouldn't say whether investigators had searched all the other buildings.

183 removed

Earlier Saturday, officials said they had removed 137 children and 46 women from the ranch. Investigators said they planned to keep searching until every child was accounted for at the YFZ (Yearn For Zion) Ranch.

The second full day of searching at the property had investigators going building to building in the hunt for more children. State officials have blocked access to the ranch since Thursday in response to a report of physical abuse of a 16-year-old girl, law enforcement officials said Friday.

CPS spokeswoman Meisner said Saturday that authorities had removed 137 children from the ranch, an outpost of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, based in Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah. Of the 137 children, about 40 were boys.

Meisner said she didn't know whether investigators had found the 16-year-girl whose complaint of abuse reached CPS officials Monday.

"I can't confirm that we have even found that girl," Meisner said.

Eighteen of the girls have been legally removed from the ranch, and foster homes have been located for them, Meisner said.

The other 119 children remain under the care of CPS caseworkers at Eldorado's First Baptist Church, the Eldorado Civic Center and a local elementary school.

All the children have been interviewed, and some of the 46 women who had been removed from the ranch are mothers of the children being questioned, Meisner said at a news conference Saturday.

"We need to know if they are safe, if they have been abused, neglected or are at high risk of abuse," Meisner said.

She said CPS investigators' presence in Eldorado could continue indefinitely. Meisner said that she planned to be in Eldorado "for a while."

Man questioned

Law enforcement officials would not comment about any efforts to find 50-year-old Dale Barlow, who was named in a search warrant issued for records dealing with the 16-year-girl, her baby and her marriage to Barlow.

Barlow's Arizona probation officer was quoted as saying in the Salt Lake Tribune on Saturday that Barlow had told him he did not know the 16-year-old girl who made the allegations.

Probation officer Bill Loader told the newspaper that Barlow has been visited at his home in Colorado City by the Mohave County, Ariz., Sheriff's Office and an official from Arizona's child services agency. Barlow allowed the officials to search his home, Loader said.

Tom Vinger, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said late Friday that DPS officials would have no further comment on the investigation at the request of the Tom Green County district attorney's office.

Randy Mankin, editor of the Eldorado Success, estimates that 350 to 400 people have been living on the 1,691-acre ranch.

He said that the sect members have taken great care to keep children out of the public eye in Eldorado.

Known as the FLDS, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is believed to have about 10,000 members. The group splintered from the Mormon church after the Mormons disavowed polygamy in 1890.

Gag order

Before a gag order was issued Friday by state District Judge Barbara Walther, Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter, whose department sent an armored personnel carrier to Eldorado, told Midland television station KWES-TV that "one [girl] in particular is wanting out, and they're hiding her."

Shortly after Painter's remarks were aired, law enforcement officials said they could no longer speak about the investigation.

On Saturday in Eldorado, about 45 miles south of San Angelo, dozens of residents brought food and volunteered to help the displaced children.

"That's the Eldorado way," Mayor John Nikolauk said. "Whenever there are problems, this town comes together."

Nikolauk said the town's fears about the compound had largely subsided in recent months, and city officials had cooperated with the sect by allowing it to truck sewage to the city water treatment plant.

Meisner said most of the children were coping with the sudden removal from their home. "The kids are doing remarkably well," Meisner said. "We're really trying to be aware that their whole world has changed."

The compound was drawing some curiosity seekers.

But many, like Dawn Moseley of nearby Sonora, were frustrated that they could see just see the top of the sect's 115-foot-tall white temple and that none of the other buildings were visible from behind police checkpoints.

Timeline of the sect

1890 - After the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rejects polygamy, some followers defy the church's edict and continue to practice plural marriage.

1914 - Settlement begins in Short Creek, an Arizona town that becomes a haven for polygamists.

1953 - Arizona officials raid Short Creek in an attempt to prosecute polygamy, but the move is heavily criticized.

1961 - Short Creek is renamed Colorado City and grows across the border to include what is now Hildale, Utah.

1986 - Rulon Jeffs becomes the prophet of the fundamentalist sect.

2000 - Jeffs' son, Warren, orders members to separate themselves from nonbelievers and compels children to stop attending public school.

2002 - Warren Jeffs succeeds his deceased father as church leader.

2003 - David Allred, a member of the sect, purchases 1,691 acres in Schleicher County near Eldorado.

2005 - A Utah judge appoints Salt Lake City accountant Bruce Wisan as the special fiduciary of the United Effort Plan Trust, which controls the church's holdings in the Colorado City and Hildale area.

2006 - In June, Warren Jeffs is placed on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted Fugitives list. He is arrested in August during a routine traffic stop outside Las Vegas.

2007 - Jeffs is sentenced to two life sentences for the arranged marriage of a 14-year-old girl to her 19-year-old cousin.

2008 - Authorities enter the compound outside Eldorado.

Source: Star-Telegram archives