It became a tense situation when a Utah mother and former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints tried to retrieve her four children from the church-dominated community.
Sabrina Tetzner had just won sole custody of her children, but when she arrived at her former home in the FLDS community of Colorado City, Arizona, to pick them up last Friday, a crowd of devout FLDS followers, including women in their traditional prairie dresses and braided hair, swarmed her van and tried to delay the reunion, according to the Mohave County Sheriff's Office. They kicked the doors and even tried to put chickens in the vehicle.
The FLDS is allegedly controlled by their imprisoned prophet Warren Jeffs, who is serving a life sentence for marrying and sexually assaulting two 12-year-old girls.
Tetzner left the group eight years ago and a Mohave County judge awarded her legal custody of her children, ages 8 to 13, last Thursday.
But when she showed up, she faced a standoff with the FLDS community, a polygamist sect that dominates the twin towns of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, which straddle the Arizona-Utah border. The group known as the FLDS or the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints is a sect that splintered off from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon Church, more than a century ago. The Mormon Church, with over 15 million members, is not connected to the smaller polygamist sect.
The standoff lasted for hours until law enforcement arrived and intervened. Afterwards, Tetzner drove off with her children.
Many allege that the FLDS church still maintains control of the local governments, which town officials have denied.
Helaman Barlow, a former chief of the marshals that patrol the twin towns, told ABC News' “Nightline” in an exclusive interview that his job was to “protect the church.” He joined the force 20 years ago and said he quickly learned that the marshals work hand-in-glove with FLDS church security, known as “The God Squad,” who keep a close eye on outsiders.
“They have a huge network of cameras in this community,” Barlow said. “They can watch every street.”
He also said that he lived in fear that Warren Jeffs and other church leaders would take his family away if he didn’t do their bidding.
“This community has always been a theocracy,” Barlow said.
Barlow is now cooperating with federal investigators from the U.S. Department of Justice, who say the local town governments are controlled by the church.
In a statement, the attorney for Colorado City town officials denied that the officials are controlled by the church, and with regards to the former chief, Helaman Barlow, the attorney said, "We question his credibility, since he repeatedly lied under oath."
Barlow admits he has perjured himself while defending the church in the past, but insists what he is saying now is true.
But the incident with Tetzner demonstrates how many in the community remain loyal to the church.