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Teen girl's call for help led to compound raid

ELDORADO, Texas — A polygamist compound with hundreds of children was rife with sexual abuse, child welfare officials allege in court documents, with girls spiritually married to much older men as soon as they reached puberty and boys groomed to perpetuate the cycle.

The documents released Tuesday also gave details about the hushed phone calls that broke open the case, by a 16-year-old at the West Texas ranch who said her 50-year-old husband beat and raped her.

Officials have removed all 416 children from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints compound and have won custody of all of them, Child Protective Services spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner said.

Court documents said that a number of teen girls at the 1,700-acre compound were pregnant and that all the children were removed on the grounds that they were in danger of emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Another 139 women left on their own.

The compound was raided Thursday after the 16-year-old called a local family violence shelter March 29 and 30, using someone else's cell phone and speaking in hushed tones to avoid being overheard, according to an affidavit signed by Lynn McFadden, a Department of Family and Protective Services investigative supervisor.

She told the shelter that her husband would "beat and hurt" her when he got angry, including hitting her in the chest and choking her while another woman in the house held her baby. The teen also said her husband sexually assaulted her and that she was several weeks pregnant.

In the March 30 call, the teen told the shelter she was being held against her will. If she left, church members told her, "outsiders will hurt her, force her to cut her hair ... and to have sex with lots of men."

At the end of the call, she began to cry.

Authorities have issued an arrest warrant for church member Dale Barlow, who is believed to be in Arizona, but the teen's husband is not identified in the documents released Tuesday.

Attorneys for the church and church leaders have filed motions asking a judge to quash the search of the compound on constitutional grounds, saying state authorities didn't have enough evidence and that the warrants were too broad. A hearing on their motion was scheduled for today.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints broke away from the Mormon church after the latter disavowed polygamy a century ago.

Teen girl's call for help led to compound raid 04/08/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 10:25am]
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