As for CPS, along with not being equipped to handle all the children who were removed from the ranch, it never found the Sarah Barlow who'd made the call. Suspicion was building that the call was a hoax. All the same, evidence suggested that the YFZ Ranch was a hotbed of child abuse. As this evidence was presented to Judge Walther, she ordered more and more children removed.
By Monday, April 7, Judge Walther had ordered 401 children into temporary protective custody based on a determination of significant risk of harm. In addition, 133 women had now left the compound. The men, meanwhile, were told to remain on the ranch while the investigation continued.
Kathy told me that the small community of Eldorado was spinning from the shock of seeing hundreds of children being pulled from the YFZ Ranch. The residents had had no idea there were so many children sequestered on the ranch since, as Kathy said, the women and children were never seen in town, only the men. All anyone knew was that the ranch was a closed polygamous community that kept to itself.
The raid was now the largest child custody case anyone could remember in U.S. history. Unfortunately, CPS was not remotely prepared to provide for the hundreds of children suddenly in its care. Emergency workers were being called in from other areas of Texas to help. The Eldorado community began collecting emergency relief to provide food, toys, cribs, and other items the children needed.
"They should have kicked out the men and left the children undisturbed," Kathy said angrily. "Those kids should not be traumatized like this."
She was right, but I knew there was plenty of trauma going on inside the ranch, too. One of the major reasons I fled the FLDS was because fourteen-year-old girls were routinely forced to marry and my daughter Betty was thirteen at the time. And in the months before my escape, the FLDS was becoming even more fanatical. Warren Jeffs, who'd ascended to the official leadership of the FLDS in 2002 after his father, Rulon Jeffs, died, was splitting up families and talking about sending "worthy" FLDS members to "The Center Place." At that point in time, none of us knew what he meant by "The Center Place" but I thought it sounded terrifying.
During the nearly two years, from 2005 to 2006, when Warren Jeffs was on the run (a status that eventually earned him a place on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list), my husband, Merril Jessop, became one of the most powerful leaders in the cult. If I'd stayed married to him, my eight children and I would almost surely have been forced to move to the compound in Texas, where we would have been completely cut off from the outside world. Even worse, my handicapped son, Harrison, would have been unable to get the medical care and therapy he needed to survive. Merril had ten children under the age of twelve when we got married, and he fathered twenty more over the next seventeen years. It had been nearly five years since I'd seen any of the stepchildren I'd helped raise, and I knew their world had only grown less safe. With Warren Jeffs's 2006 arrest and conviction (he's now serving two five years-to-life sentences for being an accomplice to rape), his followers became more convinced than ever that he was being persecuted like Jesus Christ, just as he'd predicted.