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FLDS members invite camera crew into compound

FLDS members invite camera crew into compound



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John Hollenhorst and Andrew Adams reportingFor the first time ever, followers of Warren Jeffs allowed a news camera inside to give their side of the law enforcement raid that captured worldwide attention.

Now the mothers of those 416 children removed from the compound are appealing to Texas' governor for help. The mothers sent a letter to Gov. Rick Perry saying some of the kids have become sick and even required hospitalization. They say children have been questioned about things they know nothing about since they were placed in the legal custody of the state.

The Deseret News reports that Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) leaders have extended an invitation to the Texas governor and President Bush to come see for the ranch for themselves.

Also Sunday, Texas state officials enforced a judge's order and confiscated the cell phones of the women and children. Attorneys say the move will prevent possible witness tampering.

In a journalistic coup, the Deseret News was allowed inside the compound with cameras, and the newspaper is allowing us to use its video.

Voices from inside the compound are finally being heard, 10 days after the raid began. FLDS members say their children are having a rough time, and the parents are being falsely portrayed by Texas officials.

Sarah Dallof reached an FLDS member by phone inside the compound who compared it to a concentration camp. Meanwhile, the Deseret News video gives us our first chance to see and hear people inside the compound.

The ranch is much quieter than usual after the biggest mass seizure of children in modern memory. Four hundred sixteen kids were placed in state custody by Child Protective Services.

Shannon, a member of the FLDS Church in Eldorado, Texas, said, "The only abuse they've had, the only abuse they've ever had is since the Child Protective Services have taken them."

Most mothers voluntarily went with their children to temporary shelters. But some mothers, away from the ranch when the raid took place, have been separated from their children for more than a week, communicating by cell phone.

"They are happy and sweet children. They love it here. They want to be here. They keep saying, 'I want to go home, I want to go home, let us go home,'" Shannon said.

Monica, another FLDS member, said, "I do not know why they have my children. No one has told me anything, except that for maybe this and maybe that and it's maybe because of this. But no one has confronted me and said, 'This is why'."

The why, according to state officials, is that searchers found evidence of a pervasive pattern of underage marriages and sex with 13- and 14-year-olds. They observed several pregnant minors and others who had already given birth.

Marleigh Meisner, with Texas Child Protective Services, said, "This is about children who are at imminent risk of harm, children that we believe have been abused and neglected."

FLDS members say law enforcement agents ransacked their homes and took away many possessions, including family photos. "Can you imagine what it's like to come back to nothing?" Monica said.

The seizures were noted on search warrant records. Agents clearly hope to use photos to establish family relationships as they prepare possible criminal charges.

Richard, another FLDS member, said, "And every way I look at this, it's just more of the same. It's religious persecution because of an unpopular religion. We want to bring mothers and children back."

"You know, with Heavenly Father's help, I will be able to get them back," Monica said.

The Deseret News also obtained cell phone photos apparently taken by FLDS members in the state shelters. They show extremely crowded conditions with cots very close together.

One woman told the Deseret News conditions are dirty and people haven't had the chance to change. "There're about eight people in this shelter that only have the clothes that they wore when they came out of the ranch. They've been here for five or six days. There's no set of clothes change," she said.

The children are described as bored, unhappy and crying a lot, creating very noisy conditions. It's in sharp contrast to the ranch, where all the children are gone and no one knows if they're ever coming back.

E-mail: hollenhorst@ksl.com
E-mail: aadams@ksl.com

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