Menu

ARCHIVE

Polygamist Sect Mothers Deny Allegations of Abuse

Several women from the polygamist retreat raided more than a week ago defended their lifestyle Wednesday in an exclusive interview with FOX News, calling it "a wonderful pure life," and saying government officials deceived them when they raided the ranch where they live.

Six women from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints spoke to FOX News from the ranch in Eldorado, Texas, raided April 3 by government officials as part of a wide-ranging abuse investigation.

The women, who would only give their first names, told FOX News that the allegations have "no foundation."

"We want the world to know the truth," said Ada, one of the women from the ranch.

The women, who appeared on FOX News wearing similar high-collared dresses in pastel colors, said they agreed to speak to the media in the hopes of getting their children back.

More than 400 children — all of whom lived in the large, dormitory-style log homes at the Yearning for Zion ranch — were seized in the raid on suspicion they were being sexually and physically abused after allegations emerged that underage girls were forced to marry older men.

They are being held in the San Angelo Coliseum and are awaiting a massive court hearing Thursday that will begin to determine their fate.

"The sexual abuse and all of these reports that are coming through are not accurate," said Janet, who said she has five of her 12 children in state custody. "It seems as though, often times people judge from their own hearts — other people — and this is what we are victims of."

Janet told FOX News that they strive to live "pure, virtuous lives" at the ranch, though she admitted her husband has more wives than just her.

"We are a very private people, and we like to give that privilege to anyone else to be what they are," said mother Shannon.

Another woman claimed officials "deceived" and "lied to us continually" when they raided the ranch.

"I want the world to know that our children have been torn from us and that they need us," said Sally, a mother of nine.

"They told us that they were going to put us on a bus and take us to where it was a bigger, better place to be — where our family could be together," she added.

The sect, which is not affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is led by Warren Jeffs, who was convicted last year in Utah of being an accomplice to rape and is awaiting trial in Arizona on similar charges.

"It's just alleged stories," Janet said of the Jeffs case.

On Monday, officials began separating women and some of their offspring without warning, members of the sect said.

About three dozen of the women who returned to the FLDS ranch spoke out publicly for the first time Monday, after 11 days in temporary shelters. They said in interviews that police gave them a choice between returning home or relocating to a women's shelter.

"It just feels like someone is trying to hurt us," said Paula, 38. "I do not understand how they can do this when they don't have a for sure knowledge that anyone has abused these children."

Images released Tuesday by Rod Parker, a Salt Lake City attorney who serves as a FLDS spokesman, show police entering the Yearning for Zion ranch wearing body armor and carrying automatic weapons, backed by an armored personnel carrier.

"They responded by singing and praying," Parker said.

Sect members took the photos and video during the first few days of a seven-day raid that involved police agencies from six counties, the Texas Rangers, the state highway patrol and wildlife officers. Authorities were looking for a teenage girl who had reported being abused by her 50-year-old husband.

Shannon said the allegation was just "a prank phone call."

A sect member whose wife shot the video said ranch residents quickly got the impression that state officials "were doing something more than they said they were going to do." The man declined to give his name for fear that speaking out would cause problems for his children, who are in state custody.

Tela Mange, a state Department of Public Safety spokeswoman, said officers are trained to protect themselves.

"Whenever we serve a search warrant, no matter where or when, we are always as prepared as possible so we can ensure the operational safety of the officers serving the warrant, as well as the safety of those who are on the property in question," Mange said.

The armored car was precautionary and designed to remove someone from the property, not to force entry onto the ranch, she said.

While there were hunting rifles at the ranch, search warrants filed in district court in Tom Green County don't show that police seized any weapons.

Eldorado is about 200 miles southeast of Waco, where federal authorities tried to arrest Branch Davidian leader David Koresh for stockpiling guns and explosives in 1993. Four federal agents and six members of Koresh's sect died in the shootout that ensued. After a 51-day standoff, Koresh and nearly 80 followers died in an inferno that the government says was set by the Davidians but that survivors say started when authorities fired tear gas rounds into their compound.

Law enforcement surrounded the FLDS ranch, carrying a warrant seeking a 16-year-old girl who said she was trapped inside the church retreat and had been beaten and raped by her husband.

The search revealed that a soaring white limestone temple at the ranch held a bed where officials believe underage girls were required to consummate their spiritual marriages to much older men.

FLDS members carefully documented the raid in notes, video and still pictures of police and child protection workers talking with families, but much of that material was seized when police executed one of two search warrants on the ranch, Parker said.

The 416 children held by Texas authorities had been accompanied by 139 women until Monday, when officials ordered all the women away except for those whose children are under 5.

Texas Children's Protective Services spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner said officials decided that children are more truthful in interviews about possible abuse if their parents are not around.

"I can tell you we believe the children who are victims of abuse or neglect, and particularly victims at the hands of their own parents, certainly are going to feel safer to tell their story when they don't have a parent there that's coaching them with how to respond," Meisner said.

But another mother disagreed.

"I have an 18-year-old daughter that has been taken and isolated, and they're trying to interrogate her and trying to get her to say that she is the victim," Amy told FOX News. "And she's been isolated and interrogated through the whole night and then several days and the abuse is absolutely terrible.

"How does a young girl stand up under such pressure and still remain mentally stable?" Amy continued. "She needs her mother. She needs us."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.