John Hollenhorst ReportingTwo teenage girls who ran away from a polygamist community on the Utah Arizona border are drawing attention to another tough issue involving parental rights: Do polygamist parents have the same right as anyone else to maintain control of their kids?
Because of a membership shakeup in the polygamist town of Colorado City, critics have been predicting a flood of teenage runaways for weeks. That hasn't happened. But two teenage girls are currently unaccounted for and they highlight a troubling issue for authorities.
The girls fled Colorado City several weeks ago. 16-year olds Fawn Holm and Fawn Broadbent first went to anti-polygamy activist Flora Jessop. Arizona authorities placed the girls in a temporary home, but they fled again last weekend, fearing the state will send them back to their parents.
Fawn Holm's brother who lives in Sandy is offering his home as an option.
Carl Holm, Fawn Holm's Brother: "I think they need to be in some schools and I think they need to be around family. And I think they need to be around people who understand what they've been through and what they're gonna be going through."
The girls left letters spelling out their feelings about Colorado City.
"I do not want to go back," Fawn Holm wrote, "because I will be locked up and even married." Fawn Broadbent wrote the polygamy community is like prison: "I won't go back, so I guess I'm going to be running until I'm 18."
At a Phoenix news conference Tuesday, Flora Jessop and Carl Holm's wife were incensed.
Flora Jessop, Anti-polygamy Activist: "We don't know where they're at. And I'm really, really angry with the state of Arizona for making these kids feel like they had to run again."
Joni Holm, Fawn's Sister-In-Law: "The state of Arizona does not help girls escape from polygamy and abuse. They are returned to their abusers."
Utah officials aren't directly involved. But similar cases in the past have presented the same legal dilemma of when to override parental rights.
Adam Trupp, Utah Dept. of Human Services: "The status of living in a polygamist home in a compound, on its own would not, I think, meet our definition of a child who is abused or neglected and can't live in that home."
But it's different if there's evidence for a high risk of abuse or an imminent underage marriage.
Adam Trupp, Utah Dept. of Human Services: "Then we will take some action, we will treat that as innappropriate parent. But something short of that we will not."
Carl Holm insists he doesn't know where the two girls are. But at last word, they were in the company of Holm's 18-year old daughter. Police in Arizona are looking for them. One activist says he's betting they're hiding somewhere in Utah.