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Polygamist ranch suspect questioned, released

Texas law enforcers met Saturday in Arizona with the man accused of abusing the 16-year-old girl whose call for help triggered a raid on the West Texas compound.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Texas law enforcers met Saturday in Arizona with the man accused of abusing the 16-year-old girl whose call for help triggered a raid on the West Texas compound of a secretive polygamous sect.

Dale Barlow, 50, of Colorado City, Ariz., has denied allegations of physical and sexual assault made in a whispered March 29 telephone call to a Texas domestic violence hot line.

Tela Mange, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, confirmed the meeting but offered few details of the interview between Barlow and Texas Rangers.

"We have not made an arrest in this case and may not necessarily make one today," she said.

A telephone message left at Barlow's home by The Associated Press was not immediately returned.

Barlow has said he doesn't know the girl, whom Texas child welfare officials have not yet located.

In her phone call, the girl said that she was pregnant with her second child and accused her husband of beating her about the head and chest when angry. She said she was trapped and not allowed to leave the Yearn for Zion Ranch in Eldorado.

The ranch is owned by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, whose members believe practicing polygamy will bring exaltation in heaven.

The faith's members have traditionally made their homes along the Arizona-Utah border, but in 2003 purchased the 1,700-acre former game preserve about 40 miles south of San Angelo.

Barlow spent 45 days in the Mohave County, Ariz., jail last year after pleading no contest to a charge of conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor. He is a registered sex offender on probation and can't leave the state without permission. Bill Loader, his probation officer, has said he saw Barlow in Arizona a day after the Texas raid.

Compound raid
Child welfare officials seized 416 children, most of them girls, in the raid on the compound, saying the youngsters were in danger of physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

Some 139 women from the ranch left voluntarily to be with the children, who are now housed in San Angelo's historic Fort Concho and at the nearby Wells Fargo Pavilion. Officials have said they are having difficulty identifying some of the children.

FLDS families have been under suspicion for decades for their religion-driven lifestyle and are taught to fear authorities and withhold information to protect their families.

Hearings to sort out the custody issues for the children are scheduled for Monday and Thursday.

The Texas legal community responded to the challenge of recruiting as many as 350 court-appointed lawyers for the children in advance of Thursday's hearing. Texas State Bar President Gib Walton said the group has already conducted free legal training for volunteer lawyers so that each child can have representation.

"This type of mobilization is unprecedented; there's no doubt about it," Walton said. "We're very proud of the way that Texas lawyers have rallied to the situation," he added.

Some of the women are getting free help from Legal Services lawyers, he said.

Meanwhile, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard sent an attorney and an investigator experienced in FLDS prosecutions to assist Texas officials in the Eldorado ranch probe, Goddard spokeswoman Andrea Esquer said.

Also Saturday, Utah polygamy advocates in the Salt Lake City area were working on care packages for those held at Fort Concho. About 500 stuffed animals, toiletries, diapers and other personal items had been collected, said Mary Batchelor, a co-founder of Principle Voices. The items will be shipped to Texas next week, she said.

Some 500 children from Utah polygamous families had also written letters to the FLDS children.

"The children wanted to express their feelings and let these kids know that they are not alone," she said.