Were proud of the fact that the raid was as calm as it was, and I base that on communication and the relationship wed built with the community prior to the raid. At some point, Randy and I were in a meeting in the DAs office with other decision-makers. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser. Jessop is seeking to collect on two separate multimillion-dollar judgment liens one for $24.45 million and another for $8.5 million he won in a Utah court in 2012 against the FLDS church and several of its members. She had been in touch with law enforcement prior to the raid because she was trying to find a sibling. They were sent back to hell. She remembers seeing him kiss the young girls he married. Use Next and Previous buttons to navigate. But for an unknown number of others, some of whom are in hiding, their beliefs a decade later remain strong. I was concerned for how they would respond to it.. There are thousands in the city where I live; they have little compounds. He declined a request for an interview, according to a Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman, but former members say he continues dispensing orders from a lock-up in Palestine. The FBI and police stormed the compound in April 2008, amid allegations that underage girls were being forced into bigamist marriages. So when the judge ordered the removal of the children and we went out there and found out that there were over four hundred children on the property, we werent prepared. You just hope the seed was planted that while theres lots of evil in the outside world, the outside world, as a whole, was not evil.

By the time of the raid, Rachel Jeffs had left the ranch. The 1993 standoff between the Branch Davidian Christian sect and the federal government outside of Waco was at the front of peoples minds at the time, said longtime resident J.D. They deserve to know there is a family out there that cares for them.

The states taken it over and they havent done a damn thing with it for the most part of it, except let it rot.. That was a monumental thing to do, and its not the way to go about things. To help resolve the problems, 29 safety plans were signed, 170 parents attended eight hours of parenting classes, and 50 girls took four hours of education sessions on underage marriage and sexual abuse. Among them were a dozen girls dressed in prairie dresses who had been married between the ages of 12 and 15, including Merrianne, who had been married to Jeffs. Like the call that initiated the raid, Doran said the sheriffs office received a call by a former FLDS member whom he described as a polygamist activist who let them know about their new neighbors in 2004. She feared it might trigger a mass suicide. Warren Jeffs is doing life in prison, and in Utah, he is still the president of two corporations. Hindsight is 20-20, and now people ask why they couldnt have stayed. The main image I will never get out of my head was the templeespecially the weirdness of the white top level and the bed folding out from the wall. There were hundreds of kids who didnt give us consistent information: names had different spellings, children offered different dates of birth. Only when Jeffs was cast out again in 2010, and he began to investigate what had happened at the ranch, did he find his suspicions confirmed. Im not haunted by anything other than that victims had to endure this. ELDORADO, Texas More than 400 children, mostly girls, have been swept into state custody from a polygamist sect in what the authorities described as the largest child welfare operation in Texas history. They expected to be persecuted. Amid the desert landscape, there were orchards, log-cabin homes and a massive, shining white temple. 2022 www.statesman.com. I had less of an issue with the particularities of the individual care during the temporary removal than the fact that the children were taken from the parents at all. Ten years ago, in April, a call came into a San Angelo domestic abuse hotline from someone identifying herself as Sarah. She claimed to be a sixteen-year-old living on the Yearning for Zion Ranch, a community in Eldorado settled by the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints under the leadership of their prophet, Warren Jeffs. I think about it a lot. I met with Sheriff Doran and Randy Mankin [of the Eldorado Success newspaper] and the townspeople there. I dont think anybody understood the impact it was going to have. Some stayed still at the ranch, and life there became increasingly constrained by orders issued by Warren Jeffs from his prison cell. Sailing Was Supposed to Save Christopher Cross. I wonder if some thirty-year-old kid is going to ask me, Why didnt you do something?

When he got the CPS call, based on a tip to a shelter from a teenager who never was located, the sheriff felt the situation was urgent, but he knew they had a good line of communication. There were so many families that needed attorneys and we had very little time with them. "They have no concept of mainstream society, and their mothers were born into and have no concept of mainstream culture. They were kept isolated from the outside world. But law enforcement and prosecution naturally dont want to turn over information because theyre in the middle of an investigation. One decade later, we spoke to several of the key players involved in the raid and the extensive investigation that followed. Musser believes the raid has saved lives and credited the state for how they handled it. I said something along the lines of, Nice of you to finally show up, and he said, Ive been here the whole time. I was stunned to know that he had been on the ground and wouldnt meet with us, because so many issues would have been much simpler if wed had clear communication. The state of Texas seized the property in April 2013 after church leaders stuck by polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs answer them nothing order and did not contest the forfeiture filed by then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott in 2012. In 2014, the state seized the YFZ property; right now, its in litigation from a former member. But We Talked to an Expert About What Will. Im keeping the land viable for when it will be liquidated. Kin Man Hui, Staff / San Antonio Express-News. Some women nursing babies that were thirteen months old were separated from their infants. But that will never happen as long as Warren Jeffs is still alive. So the county donated four cemetery plots and the states paying for the removal and transportation and I believe the permits. To this day, Im the conservator. When asked about Iraq, one said, Whos Iraq?. Was She His Only Victim? "Once you go into the compound, you don't ever leave it," said Carolyn Jessop, one of the wives of the alleged leader of the Eldorado complex. After the judge decided that the children would be removed from the women, I thought, Theres no way this will happen immediately. There were not enough foster homes. The fact is, there were children being abused there, and not a single one of those victims has ever been found. Nevertheless, once law enforcement started seeing evasion and deceit, they were able to build on probable cause and acquire more search warrants that resulted in their finding the Warren Jeffss priesthood record: the crimes he committed, written by him. I remember Randy saying, The worst thing that can happen for CPS is for us not to have the information. And at the end of the dayand Im not saying this to blame anybodybut we did not have the information in time for the full adversary hearing, so we were not able to distinguish children and family units; Judge [Barbara] Walther was not able to look at individual families, she had to see a collective unit, and thats why the court ruled there wasnt sufficient evidence to determine a per-child situation. I think if a child has made an outcry, they had an obligation to investigate. They were unaccustomed to what they ate. During Jeffs' trial, prosecutors used DNA evidence to show he fathered a child with a 15-year-old girl and played an audio recording of what they said was him sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl. Thats why the children were sent back home. All rights reserved. They were sent back to hell.

Public opinion turned against the states actions, and while the Third Court of Appeals ordered DFPS to return the children to the ranch, the agency continued to work the cases as law enforcement looked into criminal charges. To this day, Im the conservator. This has been a major part of my career.. I recorded them. The number one thing I still completely agree with is Judge Walthers order to remove the children from the YFZ ranch. They had never been given toys. One of the problems during the first few weeks was that CPS didnt seem to respect, at the highest level, the need to communicate with the people the court had appointed to represent the rights of the children and speak as their best interest, which was Court Appointed Special Advocates. The raid last week on the sprawling compound built by Warren Jeffs, a now-jailed polygamist leader, was sparked by a call from a 16-year-old girl who said that she was being abused and that girls as young as 14 and 15 were being forced into marriages with much older men. We had women who refused to tell us if they had children, or what their childrens names were. State troopers were holding an unknown number of men in the compound until investigators finished executing a house-to-house search of the 1,700-acre, or 690-hectare, property, which includes a medical facility, a cheese-making plant, a cement plant, a school, numerous large housing units and an 80-foot, or 24-meter, white limestone temple that rises discordantly out of the brown scrub. Her reconstruction of the Santa Fe High School shooting, along with two other colleagues, won first place for feature writing from the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors. I oversee security and maintenance.

Texas had the guts to do what other states did not, she says. Members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints settled in a remote area near Eldorado and isolated themselves on their self-built compound, the Yearning for Zion Ranch. AP Photo/San Angelo Standard-Times, Patrick Dove. They kept to themselves, but everyone in town knew who they were. He still calls the shots from prison. The Texas Department of Public Safety said its agents took possession of the Yearning For Zion Ranch near Eldorado. She had enough inside information that it was a really interesting series of calls. The YFZ Ranch raid 10 years later: Texas had the guts to do what other states did not, Brittney Griner's former teammates don't see her as criminal. They had no choice in the matter and were indoctrinated to believe that what they were doing was correct. Willie Jessop, former bodyguard and one-time staunch supporter of Jeffs, is in a dispute with the state of Texas. Without that evidence, Warren Jeffs would still be a free man. If he had sat down in the meetings, we could have discussed the options together.

He was relieved when three invitations to go there fell through. The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, headed by Jeffs since his father's death in 2002, broke away from the Mormon church after the latter disavowed polygamy more than a century ago. I wish we could have helped every one of those kids. We lost track of every single one of the kids and families on that compound after CPS returned them. He claims he has a legal interest in the Yearning for Zion Ranch and should receive money from a sale. But when you look at it in the moment, no one knew how the members of the FLDS would respond to the raid. They expected fifty kids max at the ranch and found almost five hundred. Matt Lanza on what to know. Nobody got hurt, no shots were fired.

Youre in a difficult situation either way. Doyle. He has broken down the family structure of the FLDS in the past few years so that there are no more marriages in the FLDS; husbands and wives have been dissolved and the children have caretakers now. We were asking them questions as simple as Who are you? A convicted pedophile. Because the state is exempt from paying taxes on the property, Schleicher County has not collected tax money on the Yearning for Zion Ranch since its seizure. A decade after the largest custody battle in U.S. history, some of those involved speak about their memories. Glen McCurley Strangled Carla Walker in 1974. A judge granted the state's request in January. I suspected that if it wasnt a real girl, there was a deeper connection with somebody from the FLDS. Not many members of the YFZ who have left are talking. In the end, eleven FLDS men were given prison sentences for crimes related to bigamy and sexual assault. I believe thats what kept everything calm, he said, theorizing FLDS members had a vested interest in communicating with them because of controversy surrounding their sect in Utah. I think we did everything we could do. It just made me sick, Rachel Jeffs said. Nothing about the raid haunts me. The group was relocated to San Angelo, Texas. In 2012, Jeffswho continues to run the FLDS from a cell in Palestine, where he is serving a life sentence for sexual assault of a twelve- and fifteen-year-oldordered the residents at YFZ to abandon the property and live in smaller groups throughout the country.

It was also a matter of salvation: If we werent called to Texas, Jeffs said, we were going to be destroyed with the wicked that year.. Schleicher County sheriff David Doran and child victim advocate Flora Jessop in 2004. Catching Up With the FLDS One Year After Warren Jeffs Conviction, FLDS Leader Convicted in Historic Bigamy Case, Remembering the Texas Town That Did, Indeed, Start the Fire, How a Texas Monthly Editor Got Inside a Billion-Dollar Wall Street Power Play, The States Winningest HS Football Coach Might Forget All His Victories, Paradise Lost: Where You Cant (or Shouldnt) Swim Right Now in Texas, Welcome to Party Island on Lady Bird Lake, East Texass Most Exciting New Store Is Hidden in a Small-town Mansion.

The state stopped tracking nearly all of the children that year. Theres a whole other part to the story that was never exposed about how Rozita was getting the information she was getting, but it was from somebody in the FLDS.

They see Jeffs as God's spokesman on Earth. She joined the paper in 2015 as a suburban reporter. Though the call turned out to be a hoax, the details Swinton gave about widespread underage marriage and sexual abuse were anything but. The ranch was home to the most devout members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a polygamist group distrusting of the outside world led by Warren Jeffs. There was a lot of confusion in those first days. He was not in the meetings with the rest of us deciding things like where the children were moving and when. In these cases, DFPSs sole purpose was to protect the children, reunite them with their families when the childrens safety could be reasonably assured, and give those families better tools to protect their children from abuse or neglect in the future, the report stated. More than 400 children were taken from the ranch, resulting in the largest child custody case in U.S. history. I think theyve been through enough. It also cited sexual assaults committed on the property. Telephone messages left for Colorado City authorities were not immediately returned Monday. They were later returned by order of appellate courts, including the Texas Supreme Court. As a subscriber, you have 10 gift articles to give each month. Sometimes names were changed. The Top 50 Texas BBQ Joints: 2021 Edition, Solar Power Is Bailing Texas Out This Summer. The countys losing taxes, the citys losing taxes, the schools losing taxes, and the state is just letting it rot, he said. The sheriff dug a little deeper to find out who they were, learning about their religion, visiting Utah law enforcement and talking with FLDS members in Utah. Women and children from the YFZ Ranch, the compound built by polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, are moved by bus to San Angelo, Texas, on Sunday, April 6, 2008. Thats why the children were given back to their mothers. Texas was described by the prophet as the place for elite and loyal people, said Wallace Jeffs, 57. In 2014, the state seized the YFZ property; right now, its in litigation from a former member. As far as my point of view of the raid, it was really the beginning of the end of Warren, and really of the whole church, Jeffs said. At the sheriffs office, people who broke with the church after the raid occasionally stop by. I havent talked to any kids who escaped YFZ. I hated Texas.. All three former members quoted in this story have written books on their experience. A January 6 Fugitive Was Arrested on a Property Connected to the Kinney CountyAttorney. Attorney Carmen Dusek helped organized legal representation ten years ago for the hundreds of children removed from the Yearning for Zion Ranch. Ive got to tell you, she was good. She was part of the Chronicle team that was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news in 2017 for coverage of Hurricane Harvey. But I check the perimeter daily. But it wasnt the way they moved in that grabbed peoples attention. We needed the records so we could organize the children and family units for the adversary hearings. We were in contact with former FLDS members, and when we found the beds we were in such shock we asked these ladies, What are we seeing? and [they] described what it was used for. How could this happen? Now empty, all that remains is a towering white stone temple and numerous buildings that mostly were used for housing. Members were sometimes spotted in town, the women in their prairie dresses, but they largely kept to themselves.

After Waco and Ruby Ridge, the feds tended to shy away from any potentially bad press. The prophet, Warren Jeffs, was sentenced to life in prison following his 2011 conviction on child sexual assault charges. Whats the Next Chapter for the FLDS Ranch? Number two, if they violate a law, you take action so they know where the line in the sand is drawn. I had no idea law enforcement was mobilizing to raid that ranch at the time I was taking those calls. The real caller was Rozita Swinton, a 33-year-old woman living in Colorado Springs. Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran had built a relationship with some FLDS members. Ultimately, I ended up with the Texas Rangers and would dial them into the calls. Case managers were saying that they had no discretion to change the plans. They had to write Jeffs a letter every week. I wanted things to change, she said. Seven of those girls had one or more children. Around this time of year, attorney Carmen Dusek finds herself thinking about a woman named Merrianne. Law enforcement officials assist members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints onto a school bus in Eldorado, Texas, Sunday, April 6, 2008. Jeffs, who was known to visit the Yearning for Zion Ranch, is serving life plus 20 years in prison for raping two girls one age 12, the other 15 he had taken as polygamous brides. But they also had planned for this, in a way. She has documented the city's sprawl while playing a key role in the paper's breaking news and enterprise coverage. I dont think any of us were prepared for the magnitude, said Dusek, the attorney who organized the legal representation for the children. Courtesy: Jackson Walker LLP / Courtesy: Jackson Walker LLP. Much of that experience is a blur. In an affidavit in support of removing the children, a CPS investigator said there was a pervasive pattern and practice of indoctrinating and grooming minor female children to accept spiritual marriages to adult male members of the YFZ Ranch resulting in them being sexually abused.. She, too, found it strange. This couldnt possibly be the law in Texasand it wasnt. Sometimes they didnt know who gave birth to them. Procreation takes place in a ritual by one of the twelve high priests assigned to impregnate women. We have a camera set up at the front gate, and we have our share of curiosity seekerspeople trying to push the gate open or asking for a tour, which we dont allow. ELDORADO, Texas The secluded Texas ranch where followers of imprisoned polygamist Warren Jeffs lived in near isolation was seized by state agents on Thursday, nearly six years after FBI agents raided the property and removed hundreds of children amid child sex abuse allegations. I received panicked calls from moms who were terrified. They "were born into this," said Jessop, 40. Emily Foxhall covers the environment for the Houston Chronicle. I dont think that Randy Stout [co-lead counsel] and I ever stood in one place for more than three minutes. It was how they left. Anyone can read what you share. But 10 years on, every April, Dusek wonders what became of Merrianne. Maybe one-third of the members have been kicked outthat still leaves many thousands, and theyre scattered all over the country. I worry about those boys and girls who went back into homes.

Jessop left with her eight children before part of the sect moved to Texas. For the children in foster care, so much was unfamiliar.

It was like, could we be famous for a chili cook-off or something?. Her call triggered a law enforcement raid on the 1,700-acre property, and, eventually, a Department of Family and Protective Services order to remove 437 children from the ranch. Texas takes custody of 400 children after raid on polygamist compound, https://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/08/world/americas/08iht-texas.1.11761542.html. In all, 439 confirmed minors, including two born after the raid, were eventually placed in foster care until the state Supreme Court ruled on May 29, 2008, that the state had overstepped its bounds and ordered the children be returned to their parents. Seven bodies must be relocated, and relatives of the deceased were given two options bodies could be moved to a place of their choosing or reburied in the local cemetery, Doran said. After the full advocacy hearing, a DPS trooper drove me to a meeting in a small office and a man walked in the room and said, Im Carey Cockerell. We were led to believe that Carey Cockerell, the DFPS commissioner, was in Austin. The fallout from the report was immense: law enforcement entered the property to search for Sarah, who, they found out months later, didnt exist. They tell the sheriff they are glad it happened. She agreed to help them with the raid. We figured out pretty quick that something was going to happen when you got about 75 or 80 (law enforcement officers) running around town, said Michael Kent, manager of Kents Automotive shop in Eldorado. Working behind the scenes was Rebecca Musser, who had broken with the church in 2002 at age 26. I remember the tension of that meeting. It was hard enough hearing the anguish in the voices of these women, not knowing where their children were and how they could find them. What should I do if I test positive for COVID? Eldorado residents feared someone from the Yearning for Zion Ranch especially a child could get hurt by the feds, either directly or indirectly, Doyle said. Leave them blank to get signed up. But not even all FLDS members knew exactly what was going on there, including one of Warrens half-brothers, Wallace Jeffs. I found out that the FLDS bought that piece of property in Eldorado, Texas, and visited in 2004. The only thing that caught us off-guard is that we had always been told in local law enforcement that there were about two hundred to three hundred men, women, and children on the property. It didnt turn out that way, said Doran, who still goes to the now state-owned property daily. Had the FLDS been forthcoming and said, Yeah, come on in, lets resolve this and work it out, it would have been much easier. Among the buried is the body of Barbara Jeffs, one of Warren Jeffs wives. Why the mass removal when the allegations were so specific? Its always funny because I would call a place halfway across the United States for parts, and Id tell them my shipping address and, Oh, youre from that little town Eldorado with all the Mormons, Kent said, furrowing his brow in displeasure. That would satisfy me. But there is due process for that.

It was really what opened my eyes to what was really going on in the church, He now calls the Texas property Warrens brothel.. No, Shading Your AC Unit With an Umbrella Wont Help. That still bothers me. We had some knowledge of FLDS culture, of who they were, and of names and faces. What followed was the largest child custody battle in U.S. history, eliciting age-old struggles between religious freedom and the role of government. Thats a common strain, a push-pull of competing interest between law enforcement and CPS. This is a carousel. Of the parents, 124 were deemed perpetrators. Your California Privacy Rights / Privacy Policy. About two and a half weeks before the raid, I received a call from Rozita Swinton, who claimed to be in the FLDS. But some of her 52 siblings called her. Who is your mother? And that alone became tricky. In this April 8, 2008 file photo, law enforcement vehicles are parked around the main temple on the grounds of the Yearning For Zion ranch, home of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints near Eldorado, Texas, where state troopers, Texas Rangers and other authorities completed their search. This was fine with me; we operate better amongst ourselves in state agencies. The raid was controversial at the time. Every indication was that the call was genuine, and law enforcement was duty-bound to respond. I feel good that Warren Jeffs was arrested, prosecuted, and sent to life in prison, along with those who committed similar crimes. If those children stayed and we had another Waco, the question would always be: Why didnt you get the children out? So their involvement, initially, was limited. If they have questions for me, theyll ask. Soon after, she began roaming the state as the Texas Storyteller. The only women who were allowed to stay were mothers nursing babies under one year old. I had been looking into FLDS cases for about five years when the raid occurred. The evidence admitted into the record to her was the most powerful, allowing people to see for themselves what happened. Thats the impression that we had. Authorities took 439 children into protective custody. Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran attributes the safe outcome of the raid to a working relationship and open lines of communication between authorities and leadership at the Yearning for Zion Ranch.
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