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Most FLDS women separated from their children as legal battle heats up

Most FLDS women separated from their children as legal battle heats up


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(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

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There were new developments in Texas Monday evening involving the children taken from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) compound last week. Most of the FLDS mothers have now been separated from their children in state shelters, some tearfully.

Also in Texas, the legal battle is heating up over the future of the 416 FLDS children and their mothers.

The children remain in state-run shelters, but it now appears most of their moms were separated from the children involuntarily Monday afternoon and taken back to the FLDS compound, apparently without proper good-byes for a separation that could be long-term, or even permanent.

Texas officials portrayed the new initiative as a normal part of a child abuse investigation. But it brought a wave of tears across the FLDS compound, where church leaders opened the gates to reporters.

Texas officials say it's not a normal practice to leave children with their parents during a child abuse investigation. Still, they did allow the mothers to stay with the kids for a week and a half. Until Monday. The mothers were hit with what they say was a heart-wrenching and frightening change of policy.

For the last week and a half, 416 children and 139 adult women have been at state-run shelters in San Angelo. The women were free to leave but were told that if they did, they couldn't come back to their children.

According to the FLDS mothers, officials told them that all the women and children were being moved to bigger and better facilities Monday afternoon. But then officials separated the mothers who had no children 4 or younger. The mothers of older kids say they were taken back to the FLDS ranch on buses, without a proper goodbye to their children.

FLDS spokesman Rod Parker says the separation of the mothers from their children was involuntary.

One FLDS mother said, "I told them I'd come back. I told them I would come back. They wouldn't let us. They wouldn't even let us get our luggage. They had us get on the bus, no questions, nothing. Like Hitler. I felt like we were the Jews."

"Where are my children? I don't know who's taking care of them," she said.

Two other women said, "They gave a few phones back, but when they said if we see a child talking to its parents, 'Mother, can I talk to father?' They can have our phones. We just want our children. They are in danger. They are afraid. They are not safe with those people."

It's not clear how many mothers of young children did stay in the shelters. Earlier Monday night, Parker said that all of the 139 women in the shelters were bused back to the FLDS ranch. But the state says some women opted to go to a different safe location.

In any case, it is clear that the FLDS people have learned a thing or two about public relations. After years of silence and shutting out the world, they're letting the world in, and the emotional pleas are turning up the heat and putting pressure on the Texas officials. The children have their day in court on Thursday.

Meanwhile, in Salt Lake Monday, a pro-polygamy group not affiliated with the FLDS group rallied in support of the women and children in Texas.

The group Principle Voices was started by four women who are not Warren Jeffs followers, but who live the principle of plural marriage. They say they've been flooded with contributions of toys, school supplies, books and so on; and they're sending hundreds of care packages to the children in Texas.

"Is this what America is? Do we allow children and families to be taken, separated and split up based on inconclusive allegations? We, as citizens of America, should be outraged. If this really is the land of the free and the home of the brave, reunite these children with their families. Let them go home," said Kent Johnson, a decedent of a polygamist.

In San Angelo today, Texas authorities began planning the legal process to determine the fate of the children.

The State of Texas wants to present broad evidence that all the FLDS children are at risk because of underage marriage practices. But others say each child is entitled to individual proceedings.

"Just because there's a logistical issue doesn't mean that you can violate the constitutional rights of 500 parents and children," Parker said.

Authorities still have not located the 16-year-old girl who triggered the raid with a phone call alleging abuse. For days, there's been speculation the call came form somewhere, or someone, else.

"Well, that's a very serious issue if this call turns out to be a hoax, and I think there's a lot of suggestion that that may ultimately be what happened," Parker said.

Texas officials say there's no need for clothing, toys and other items right now. They say all the children have what they need and are being well taken care of.

Nevertheless, the Salt Lake group is sending care packages and accepting financial contributions at any Wells Fargo Bank.

E-mail: jhollenhorst@ksl.com
E-mail: tcallan@ksl.com

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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