SAN ANTONIO – Nearly two-thirds of the families involved in the April raid of a polygamist sect's west Texas ranch had children who were abused or neglected, said Texas child welfare officials in a report released Tuesday.
The Department of Family and Protective Services concluded there was evidence that 12 girls, ages 12 to 15, were "spiritually" married to adult men in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which runs the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado. Seven of them had one or more children, the report says.
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Another 262 children were listed as neglected because the agency said their parents knew there was sexual abuse in the household but did not move to protect their children from possible abuse.
The report, which summarizes the investigations done on all 439 children at the YFZ Ranch, was issued at the request of the Health and Human Services Commission, the agency that oversees DFPS.
"We received what we believed was a bona fide abuse/neglect report. We were required by law to investigate," said DFPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins.
The individual investigations, which covered 146 families, concluded that 91 families had children who were abused or neglected. Crimmins said that conclusion confirmed what investigators initially suspected — that girls were being forced into underage marriages and other children were exposed to that harm.
FLDS spokesman Willie Jessop disputed the findings.
"The department has made many allegations that it's never been able to back up, in an effort to justify their barbaric actions," he said. "They need to learn how to say we're sorry instead of trying to justify their actions."
All the children from the ranch were placed in foster care in April after authorities raided it in response to calls to a domestic abuse hot line. Those calls are being investigated as a hoax, though a dozen FLDS men now face charges including sexual abuse and bigamy based on documents and evidence seized at the ranch.
The children were returned to their parents in June after the Texas Supreme Court ruled the state had overstepped in removing all the children when it only had evidence of abuse or neglect involving about a half-dozen girls. Many of the children were boys or younger than 5.
Crimmins said the intention all along had been to conduct individual investigations, but the children were removed so that could be done. The agency had accused the parents of being uncooperative and deliberately obscuring the identity of the children.
Since the investigations, most of the 200 parents have been through parenting classes and signed agreements promising to protect their children from alleged abusers. All but 19 of the children's cases have been dropped from court oversight because the agency believes they can be kept safe.
The FLDS, which believes polygamy brings glorification in heaven, is a breakaway sect of the Mormon church, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago.