Hundreds of children taken from a polygamous compound in Texas could be put into foster homes, a potentially huge adjustment for children raised in the isolated religious sect, a state Child Protective Services spokeswoman said today.
Child welfare officials took more than 400 children into custody last week on suspicion that they were being sexually and physically abused after police raided the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints compound. Hundreds of women from the sect voluntarily followed the children.
Protective services spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner said at a news conference today that the children would remain in state custody in the San Angelo, Texas, area until April 17, when a judge decides if they will remain in state custody.
No one from the outside will be permitted to see the children before the hearing, she said. "These children are with us because we believe they have been abused or neglected," she said.
If the children stay in long-term state custody, the government will look for foster homes for them, Meisner said.
Meisner said that a number of women from the polygamous group voluntarily came with the children and were free to leave. "These women came of their own free will," she said.
Several other mothers, who are not in state custody, have publicly said they are being kept from seeing their children.
Texas police searched the compound last week after the girl -- apparently pregnant with a second baby and battered so badly she had suffered broken ribs -- called a family violence hot line pleading for a rescue. She told counselors on the phone that her 50-year-old husband had beat and raped her.
Authorities have not identified the girl, but Meisner said they were "hopeful" that she is in state custody. Court documents released Friday show that investigators seized medical records for several women who shared the same name the teenager gave when she called.
Rena Mackert, who said she fled from the sect in Arizona, said the girl was probably "scared to death" to come forward because of the fear of retribution.
"She'll lose everything," she said. "They rape and murder the souls of these young women until they have no will and no desire and no knowledge that they don't have to submit to it."
On Friday, court documents revealed that the Texas Rangers had seized hundreds of photographs, documents and computers during their raid on the compound.
The search uncovered a pregnancy test, a "cyanide poisoning document" and medical records for women with the same name given by a 16-year-old girl whose call for help prompted the move.
Many of the documents, which were listed in more than 70 pages of court records, appear designed to help police determine the confusing family structures within the secretive compound, where authorities suspect young girls were sexually abused as child brides.
Those documents include birth records, family histories, numerous photo albums, family journals and personal diaries. The trove of information also includes such mundane items as parent-teacher conference sheets and at least one child's history test paper.
Other items in the list of evidence sound more ominous, including a "cyanide poisoning document," "Nephi Jeffs firearms training," "gray photo album miscellaneous weapons information," "attitude and behavior weekly sheets" and "mail from houses in hiding."