April 14, 2008 in Nation/World

Sect mothers ask governor to help kids

Jennifer Dobner Associated Press
 
Keith Johnson (Salt Lake City) Deseret News photo

“Monica,” a member of the FLDS Yearning For Zion community, talks about how Texas officials will not allow her to see her children who were taken from the ranch last week. (Salt Lake City) Deseret News
(Full-size photo)

SAN ANGELO, Texas – The mothers of children removed from a polygamous sect’s ranch in West Texas after an abuse allegation are appealing to Gov. Rick Perry for help, saying some of their children have become sick and even required hospitalization.

In the letter, the mothers from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints also say children are “horrified” by physical examinations they have undergone while in state custody.

The mothers said the letter was mailed Saturday. Perry spokesman Robert Black said Sunday that he had not seen the letter and couldn’t comment.

Some 416 children were rounded up and placed in temporary custody 11 days ago after a domestic violence hot line recorded a complaint from a 16-year-old girl. She said she was physically and sexually abused by her 50-year-old husband.

The one-page letter, signed by three women who claim they represent others, says about 15 mothers were away from the property when their children were removed.

“We were contacted and told our homes had been raided, our children taken away with no explanation, and because of law enforcement blockade preventing entering or leaving the ranch, we were unable to get to our homes and had no-where to go,” it said. “As of Wednesday, April 9, 2008, we have been permitted to return to our empty, ransacked homes, heartsick and lonely.”

The mothers said they want Perry to examine the conditions in which the removed children have been placed.

“You would be appalled,” the letter said. “Many of our children have become sick as a result of the conditions they have been placed in. Some have even had to be taken to the hospital. Our innocent children are continually being questioned on things they know nothing about. The physical examinations were horrifying to the children. The exposure to these conditions is traumatizing them.”

Asked about claims that children were hospitalized, state Child Protective Services spokeswoman Marissa Gonzalez said she had not seen the letter and would have to review it before commenting.

A judge will decide this week whether the children will remain in state custody or return to their families. Hearings are scheduled for today and Thursday.

On Sunday, state officials enforced a judge’s order to confiscate the cell phones of the women and children removed from the ranch.

The emergency order was sought by attorneys ad litem for 18 FLDS girls in the state’s custody, Gonzalez said.

In the order lawyers said the phones should be confiscated “to prevent improper communication, tampering with witnesses and to ensure no outside inhibitors to the attorney-client relationship.”

Gonazalez estimated that at least 50 phones were taken.

The children are being housed in San Angelo’s historic Fort Concho and at the nearby Wells Fargo pavilion. About 140 women from the ranch are also with the children, although they are not in state custody.

Affidavits filed by child protection workers said they found a pattern of abuse at the Yearning for Zion ranch in Eldorado, about 45 miles south of San Angelo.

On Saturday, five FLDS women staying at the fort told Salt Lake City’s Deseret News that the temporary shelter is cramped – cots, cribs and playpens are lined up side by side – and that many of the children are frightened.

Authorities said they have not yet located the teenage mother whose call for help triggered the raid at the ranch.

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