Authorities who removed 219 women and children from a polygamist compound were struggling Sunday to determine whether they had the 16-year-old girl whose report of an underage marriage led them to raid the sprawling rural property.
Many people at the compound, built by followers of jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, are related to one another and share similar names; investigators said in some case they were giving different names at different times.
Investigators on Sunday bused them out of Eldorado, nearly 200 miles northwest of San Antonio, as other law enforcement agents continued to search for more children and evidence at the 1,700-acre compound, the former site of an exotic game ranch.
State troopers armed with a search warrant raided the compound on Friday to look for evidence of a marriage between the girl, who allegedly had a baby at 15, and a 50-year-old man. Under Texas law, girls younger than 16 cannot marry, even with parental approval.
The women and children were taken out of the compound Friday and Saturday and had been staying in a local church and civic center.
By midday Sunday, dozens of women and children, mostly girls, were seen boarding buses on their way to San Angelo, a larger town 45 miles away. The women wore long pastel dresses and many carried bedding; several had infants.
Officers entered the temple on the grounds late Saturday, but by Sunday they still had not located the 16-year-old whose initial report of abuse led to the raid.
'Tense moments last night'
“There were some tense moments last night, but everything has remained calm and peaceful and they are continuing their search,” Allison Palmer, a prosecutor from a nearby county handling the case, said early Sunday.
Marleigh Meisner, a spokeswoman for Child Protective Services, said investigators were still trying to determine whether the girl who called authorities last week was among the people, including 159 children, removed from the compound.
Meisner said the adults were cooperating with investigators, and that she didn’t believe any had been forced to leave the compound.
Investigators also were looking for the man the girl allegedly married, Dale Barlow. Palmer said other law enforcement agencies “know where (Barlow) is and have talked to him, but our investigators have not.”
Barlow’s probation officer told The Salt Lake Tribune that he was in Arizona.
“He said the authorities had called him (in Colorado City, Ariz.) and some girl had accused him of assaulting her and he didn’t even know who she was,” said Bill Loader, a probation officer in Arizona.
A call to Loader by The Associated Press was not immediately returned Sunday.
Palmer said Texas authorities have been in contact with those in Arizona but have not yet talked to Barlow. No arrests have been made.
Barlow was sentenced to jail last year after pleading no contest to conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor. He was ordered to register as a sex offender for three years while he is on probation.
The search warrant instructed officers to look for marriage records or other evidence linking her to the man and the baby. The warrant authorized the seizure of computer drives, CDs, DVDs or photos.
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, headed by Jeffs after his father’s death in 2002, broke away from the Mormon church after the latter disavowed polygamy more than a century ago.
The compound sits down a narrow paved road and behind a hill that shields it almost entirely from view in town. Only the 80-foot-high white temple can be seen on the horizon. Authorities kept onlookers miles away from the compound.
A caravan of K-9 unit vehicles were seen headed down the road to the compound on Sunday morning. Palmer said she couldn’t say whether authorities had entered all of the compound’s many buildings but called it “a detailed search.”
Eldorado is a town of fewer than 2,000 people, home to a few government buildings, a couple of churches and a few blocks of houses. It’s surrounded by wind-swept plains where sheep are raised.
State officials said they did not know how many people lived at the retreat.
Jeffs is jailed in Kingman, Ariz., where he awaits trial for four counts each of incest and sexual conduct with a minor stemming from two arranged marriages between teenage girls and their older male relatives.
In November, he was sentenced to two consecutive sentences of five years to life in prison in Utah for being an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old girl who wed her cousin in an arranged marriage in 2001.