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Officials: Utah doomsday sect member hid girls in plastic barrels; charged with child kidnapping

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CEDAR CITY — A man believed to be a leader of an Iron County doomsday sect hid two young girls outdoors in two plastic, 50-gallon barrels and put another two in an abandoned motor home for roughly 24 hours before police found the children in zero-degree weather, the sheriff's office reported Tuesday.

Authorities arrested Samuel Warren Shaffer, 34, shortly after an Amber Alert was issued Monday afternoon for two daughters of John Alvin Coltharp, an associate of Shaffer. When police located Shaffer, he told them where he left the children, authorities said.

Coltharp's daughters, ages 4 and 8, were not dressed for the cold and were left without food or water in Lund, an unincorporated area 30 miles north of Cedar City, the Iron County Sheriff's Office said in a statement. Shaffer's two daughters, ages 5 and 7, were also concealed with the Coltharp children, the sheriff's office reported.

All four children were evaluated at Cedar City Hospital, and the 5-year-old was transported to Primary Children's Hospital, the sheriff's office said. It did not provide details of her condition.

The girls in the barrels were found hungry, cold and nervous; those in the trailer five to 10 miles away appeared dehydrated and sapped of energy, said Sheriff's Sgt. Del Schlosser.

Shaffer was in custody for investigation of child abuse and kidnapping, all felonies, according to a probable cause statement.

On Tuesday, prosecutors filed a child kidnapping charge against Coltharp, who is considered a prophet by the Iron County doomsday sect. Police say his four young children went missing in September.

Coltharp, 33, of Spring City, Sanpete County, was charged in 6th District Court with the first-degree felony as well as obstruction of justice by harboring or concealing a person, a class A misdemeanor.


His children — two sons and two daughters — disappeared in September right before his wife filed for divorce. Micha Soble requested a temporary restraining order and custody of her four children out of fear they would "suffer immediate and irreparable harm" if allowed to be with Coltharp.

Soble said her estranged husband is "a doomsday prepper who believes that the world will soon come to an end," and he had fled to an unknown location with the children and his parents, according to court records.

"(Coltharp) belongs to a religious group called the Knights of the Crystal Blade and is likely living in the Cedar City area with the sect's prophet, Samuel Warren Shaffer," she said in court records.

Coltharp was arrested Friday for investigation of kidnapping but refused to tell officers where his children were, according to police.

The man's two sons were found safe after Iron County sheriff's deputies raided a compound Monday. But the girls remained missing, prompting an Amber Alert to be issued.

Formal charges for Shaffer were pending Tuesday. Authorities served a search warrant in three places, though they did not say where. The FBI was helping to collect evidence in each spot, the sheriff's office said.


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Pat Reavy is a longtime police and courts reporter. He joined the team in 2021 after many years of reporting for the Deseret News


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