SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah has filed kidnapping charges against the nephew of imprisoned polygamous leader Warren Jeffs, saying that he and his sister’s 10-year-old daughter have gone missing, apparently to keep the girl from her mother upon orders Jeffs issued from prison in Texas.
In court documents filed in Piute County on Monday, prosecutors said Heber Jeffs, 54, has kept his niece in his home in Kingston, Utah, since his uncle said earlier this year that he received a revelation from God directing his followers to “gather” the community's women “and prepare to move to a location or locations as directed by Warren Jeffs," or his son, Helaman Jeffs.
Warren Jeffs is the president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The faith is an offshoot of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, widely known as the Mormon church, and espouses polygamy. It has historically been based in a small town that straddles the Utah-Arizona line. The mainstream church disavowed polygamy more than a century ago.
Since being found guilty on child sexual abuse charges stemming from underage marriages, Warren Jeffs has continued to serve as the group's prophet from a federal prison in Texas where he's serving a life sentence.
Prosecutors said that Heber Jeffs and his wife Sarah have cared for their niece, who is not named in court documents, since she was an infant, since her parents split up. Rose Jeffs, the girl's mother who is no longer an FLDS member, was allowed regular visitation and “full and free access to see her daughter” until August. At that time, Heber Jeffs told her that he would no longer allow visitation.
The court documents point to the revelation as a primary reason, saying Warren Jeffs “commanded or ordered that the FLDS female members should quit their current employment and activities and ‘gather’ (essentially ‘shelter in place’)," potentially in preparation for the lifting of a yearslong communitywide ban on marriage or child-bearing. They said Jeffs' revelation directed the community's men to send money from working in construction to leaders “pending further direction."
Rose Jeffs, according to the court documents, then demanded to take her daughter back, at which point Heber Jeffs said he planned to cut off communication. A month later, when law enforcement began pursuing Heber Jeffs, they couldn't find him at his home or places he had worked. The court issued a warrant for his arrest and he remains at large with the 10-year-old girl.
Court documents did not list an attorney for Jeffs and a phone number listed for his home in Kingston, Utah, was out of service.
The charges come weeks after federal prosecutors filed kidnapping charges against the members of a different polygamous group that splintered off from the FLDS after Jeffs’ incarceration. In that case, prosecutors said followers of Sam Bateman, a self-described prophet who fashions himself as a successor to Jeffs among a smaller breakaway group, had three women flee with children placed in state foster care after he was arrested this fall.