SALT LAKE CITY – The small community on the Utah-Arizona border where raging flash flood waters turned deadly is a remote, secluded community just south of Zion National Park that is home to a polygamous sect led by Warren Jeffs.
More on the sister towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona:
WHO LIVES THERE?
An estimated 7,700 people live in the community. They are split between loyalists who still believe Jeffs is a victim of religious persecution and defectors who are embracing government efforts to pull the town into modern society. Members of the sect, known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS, still outnumber those who have left or been kicked out. The sect is a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism whose members believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven. Polygamy is a legacy of the early teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but the faith prohibits it today.
WHERE IS IT?
The community is about 315 miles south of Salt Lake City and about 160 miles northwest of Las Vegas, straddling the Utah-Arizona state line. The remoteness of this red rock outpost is what lured Mormon polygamists here in the early 1900s after the mainstream church banned plural marriage in 1890.
WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?
The towns sit at the foot of picturesque red rock cliffs, with scrub brush and short trees in the valley below. The community is a patchwork of upscale, elegant residences surrounded by large walls and unfinished, dilapidated houses that remain just as they were in the early 2000s, when Jeffs ordered that all construction stop in Utah to focus on building his compound in Texas.
Towering brick walls with no-trespassing signs surround many of homes that resemble small motels. "Zion" signs hang above dozens of front doors in a nod to the religion's belief in creating a heaven on earth. Women and girls wearing prairie dresses with up-do hairstyles can be seen around town, pumping gas and driving tractors. They often run and hide when they see outsiders. Men drive trucks with windows tinted so dark you can't tell who is inside.
WHY IS IT KNOWN AS WARREN JEFFS' SECT IF HE'S IN JAIL?
Though Jeffs is serving life in prison in Texas for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered brides — and has been in jail in Utah or Texas continually since 2006 — it is believed he still rules the FLDS through letters and phone calls from prison. One of his brothers, Lyle Jeffs, is in the community and makes sure Jeffs' commandments are carried out. To his followers, roughly estimated to be about 6,000, he is a prophet who speaks for God and can do no wrong.