The Texas sheriff who raided a secretive polygamist compound on suspicions that young girls were being sexually abused as child brides said today that he has had an informant who was a former member of the sect.
"I have had a good informant who has given me good information over the past four years," Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran during a news conference today. "This person has been assisting us as we've gone forward on this operation."
That immediately raised questions, however, about why the sheriff waited until a desperate 16-year-old girl -- apparently pregnant with a second baby and battered so badly she had sufferered broken ribs -- called a family violence hot line pleading for a rescue.
Doran said that he was aware that the Yearning for Zion Ranch had similar compounds in Utah and Arizona where the group's men had been prosecuted for having sex with underage girls.
"We were suspicious" that a similar problem existed on the remote ranch in the Texas town of Eldorado, he said.
"We are aware that this group is capable of (sexually abusing young girls)," Doran said. "But there again, this is the United States. We are going to respect them. We're not going to violate their civil rights until we get an outcry. I've said that from day one."
A court affidavit unsealed Wednesday said Doran's informant had provided him with details about life at the ranch "on more than 20 occassions," but did not tell him until April 5 that the males of the ranch "engage in the practice of marrying multiple wives; at the initial time of the marriage the bride is often under the age of sixteen years."
El Dorado's Mayor John Nikolank told ABC News on Wednesday that investigators did not search the compound earlier because they needed evidence that girls were being abused. "This is America. You don't just go in on a perception that they are doing something wrong without any proof," he said.
Doran said the informant was a former member of sect.
Doran's revelations came a day after court documents spilled even more of the group's secrets, including the presence of a bed in the sect's temple so men could have sex with their child brides.
And as if the 461 children rescued from the polygamist ranch hadn't suffered enough, officials said there was an outbreak of chickenpox among them.
Officials said about a dozen sect children were diagnosed with the disease and were separated from the others, who are being housed in a shelter in San Angelo, Texas.
The rules of the cult clearly continue to shock investigators, despite the legalese in the court documents describing their discoveries, including emphasis on sex with their underage wives.
The temple "contains an area where there is a bed where males over the age of 17 engage in sexual activity with female children under the age of 17," according to a court affidavit, citing the confidential informant.
The temple marriage bed's linens were mussed and had hair from a female, said the affidavit signed by Texas Ranger Leslie Brooks Long and unsealed Wednesday.
Capt. Barry Caver of the Texas Rangers said he advised the ranch's leaders to leave the temple's doors unlocked or provide authorities with a key, but the sect refused. A locksmith was unable to unlock the door and a special tool also failed. Caver said the front doors and every door inside the temple had to be "breached" by a SWAT team.