ELDORADO, Texas (AP) – Authorities who removed 219 women and children from a polygamist compound were struggling Sunday to determine whether they had the 16-year-old girl whose report of an underage marriage led them to raid the sprawling rural property.
Many people at the compound, built by followers of jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, are related to one another and share similar names; investigators said in some case they were giving different names at different times.
Investigators on Sunday bused them out of Eldorado, nearly 200 miles northwest of San Antonio, as other law enforcement agents continued to search for more children and evidence at the 1,700-acre compound, the former site of an exotic game ranch.
State troopers armed with a search warrant raided the compound on Friday to look for evidence of a marriage between the girl, who allegedly had a baby at 15, and a 50-year-old man. Under Texas law, girls younger than 16 cannot marry, even with parental approval.
Officers entered the temple on the grounds late Saturday, but by Sunday they still had not located the 16-year-old whose initial report of abuse led to the raid.
“There were some tense moments last night, but everything has remained calm and peaceful and they are continuing their search,” Allison Palmer, a prosecutor from a nearby county handling the case, said early Sunday.
Marleigh Meisner, a spokeswoman for Child Protective Services, said investigators were still trying to determine whether the girl who called authorities last week was among the people, including 159 children, removed from the compound.
Investigators also were looking for the man the girl allegedly married, Dale Barlow. Palmer said other law enforcement agencies “know where (Barlow) is and have talked to him, but our investigators have not.”
“He said the authorities had called him (in Colorado City, Ariz.) and some girl had accused him of assaulting her and he didn’t even know who she was,” Bill Loader, a probation officer in Arizona, said.
Palmer said Texas authorities have been in contact with those in Arizona but have not yet talked to Barlow. No arrests have been made.
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, headed by Jeffs after his father’s death in 2002, broke away from the Mormon church after the latter disavowed polygamy more than a century ago.
Jeffs is jailed in Kingman, Ariz., where he awaits trial for four counts each of incest and sexual conduct with a minor stemming from two arranged marriages between teenage girls and their older male relatives.
In November, he was sentenced to two consecutive sentences of five years to life in prison in Utah for being an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old girl who wed her cousin in an arranged marriage in 2001.