TEXARKANA, Ark. – Stories of alleged beatings and sexual abuse prompted Arkansas child-welfare officials to take custody of 20 more children associated with the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries, an official said Wednesday.
The children — 11 boys and 9 girls ranging in age from 1 to 17_ were taken into state care Tuesday while hearings were being conducted on whether six girls seized in September should remain under state protection or be returned to their parents, Department of Human Services spokeswoman Julie Munsell said.
Munsell said Wednesday that the children picked up Tuesday in Miller County showed no immediate signs of poor health and did not require medical attention.
Alamo was arrested by the FBI in September, days after his compound in Fouke was raided by state and federal agents. The six girls, between ages 10 and 17, who were the subject of Tuesday's hearings were seized for their own protection.
Alamo has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of transporting minors across state lines for sex.
He has preached that the Bible allows girls to marry once they reach puberty but has said he didn't adopt the practice. However, witness testimony and assertions from prosecutors indicate otherwise.
A court order for Tuesday's removals came after Fort Smith police issued an arrest warrant for John Erwin Kolbeck, an alleged enforcer for Alamo who is accused of beating followers for perceived slights and offenses.
"The information that we presented to the court included allegations of abuse and neglect on all of the children, not exclusive to certain children," Munsell said.
Munsell declined to elaborate on specific allegations.
The hearings this week are to determine whether the girls should be returned to their parents or be placed under continued care arranged by the state.
Alamo's trial is set for February.
His lawyer, John Wesley Hall Jr., questioned whether his client will be able to get a fair trial in Texarkana considering the news coverage of the case. Hall said Alamo is an easy target in the child welfare hearings.
"Tony Alamo is not able to be there to defend himself, not able to cross-examine these people, which is a fundamental right," Hall said.
Munsell said social workers also contacted the Department of Human Services in neighboring Oklahoma, where some children associated with Alamo may be living. Alamo is said to have ministry locations in a number of other states, too, including California, Colorado and Tennessee.
A spokesman for the Oklahoma agency, George Johnson, did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.