Acting on a tip from a 16-year-old church member, Texas Child Protective Services arranged a raid on Friday at the compound of the polygamist sect The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 200 miles outside San Antonio. According to the AP, the teen caller said she was married and had a baby at age 15 with registered sex offender Dale Barlow, 50 — a clear violation of Texas law, as girls under 16 are not allowed to be wed, even with parental approval. The most recent reports state that Texas State troopers removed 219 people out of the compound —a former exotic game ranch, now called Yearning For Zion (YFZ) by the controversial church — but they've been as yet unable to locate the caller who notified child protective services in the first place.
CPS spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner tells the AP: "We're always concerned anytime we have a victim and we can't find that victim. I am confident this girl does indeed exist." Dale Barlow, who was convicted last year of conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor, is reportedly in Arizona at the Fundamentalist Church's other compound near the Utah border, and claims that he doesn't know the girl accusing him. According to his probation officer Bill Loader, Barlow has given a DNA sample and is cooperating with investigators.
This isn't the first time the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, a splinter Mormon faction that allows polygamy, has made news. Its controversial leader Warren Jeffs is currently in a Utah jail for arranging a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin, and the church has a reputation for exiling young men so that there can be a gender imbalance that allows for polygamy to be the norm.
The town nearest to the YFZ Ranch, a tiny burg named Eldorado, has been housing the displaced women and children for the past few days, not without suspicion and a little fear — perhaps they envision another Waco. According to the Dallas Morning News, locals think that law enforcement has been waiting since Jeffs' arrest to raid the compound. Randy Mankin, the editor of the Eldorado Success newspaper, told the Morning News, Child Protective Services "got the tip they've been waiting for, and I think they had the plan in place for how they were going to deal with it." The 200 or so women and children remain at a historic fort in nearby San Angelo for now, as officials are still trying to find the 16-year-old victim.
Troopers Probe Texas Polygamist Compound [AP]
137 Children Removed From Polygamist Ranch [CNN]
Man Accused Of Impregnating Teenager In Connection With Texas Polygamy Raid Says He Doesn't Know His Accuser [Salt Lake Tribune]
State Still Searching For Children At Polygamist Sect's Ranch [Dallas Morning News]