Family relieved accused child abuser is behind bars

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TOOELE -- The law caught up with a fugitive from Utah, tracking him down more than 1,000 miles away.

Police in Tooele say Willie Phillips, who is wanted for abusing two children, has been to different Veterans Affairs Hospitals, including this one in Salt Lake, and that information led to their big break.

"We're very pleased to hear the news," said Christopher Fields, who is a relative of the children.

That news was a long time coming. On Monday, U.S. Marshals arrested Willie Phillips at his home in Shreveport, La.

While on the lam, Phillips moved around a lot. When abuse allegations surfaced in December, Phillips was thought to have left the state.

A month later, he was seen twice in Tooele. Police say he has also been in Texas and Kansas and most recently lived in Louisiana, where he has friends.

The Department of Veterans Affairs helped investigators track Phillips, who was known to get treatment at VA hospitals. The victims' relatives say Phillips suffers from Crohn's disease, which affects the digestive tract.

"The Veterans Affairs office got a hold of us because Willie had contacted them to update some stuff through them," said Tooele police Lt. Paul Wimmer.

Phillips is accused of victimizing two kids in a Tooele trailer park. The children were legally in his custody, and police say he beat the 12-year-old boy and tried to have sex with the boy's 11-year-old sister.

"They trusted him. He was their father from the time they were 2 and 3 years old," Fields said. "Parents are there to protect their kids and not put them in harm's way."

The children have since told Fields that wasn't the first time Phillips abused them. He wants Phillips to serve the maximum penalty for each charge he'll face. That's nothing, he says, compared to what the kids are going through.

"I feel like child abuse cases are treated very lenient here in Utah. I've looked up several cases, and I hope that this one's not. If there's anything I can do about it, I will make sure as much attention is brought to it that needs to be," Fields said.

He continued, "These kids have to live with this for the rest of their lives. And to me, that's a life sentence for the children."

Phillips was arrested on a warrant for the abuse case and a federal warrant for fleeing. Tooele police are working on bringing Phillips back to Utah. Prosecutors have not filed formal charges yet.


Story compiled with contributions from Sandra Yi and Marc Giauque.

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