Texas authorities move women and children as FLDS ranch investigation continues
Posted: 12:53 PM- ELDORADO, Texas - Wave after wave of small groups of women and children boarded school buses just before noon here as officials began to move about 200 members of a polygamous sect taken from a ranch over the weekend.
They were transported to Fort Concho, a historic site with large meeting facilities adjacent to the Ralph R. Chase State of Texas Services Center. The facility, about 45 miles from Eldorado, is dedicated to the health of women, infants and children.
It is not known how long they will remain at Fort Concho. A hearing on their status is scheduled for Monday in San Angelo.
As they walked to the buses, each group was accompanied by a Texas Child Protective Services worker. In some groups, the CPS worker carried a young child. For one group of very young children, CPS workers hoisted sheets so the children could not be seen.
Allison Palmer, spokeswoman for District Attorney Steve Lupton, said that law enforcement officers continue to clear buildings at the YFZ Ranch, established in 2004 by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
"Everything has gone as smoothly as possible," Palmer said.
Tensions peaked late Saturday night - and law enforcement prepared for confrontation - as a SWAT team entered and checked the sect's temple. They were able to do so without any violence and no arrests were made, Palmer said.
Palmer said that both law enforcement and sect members still at the ranch have been as cordial as possible under the circumstances.
"The residents didn't want outsiders to enter their place of worship. It created a tense moment. I can't say there has been out-and-out cooperation, but overall both sides have treated each other very respectfully," she said.
She said Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran deserves much of the credit for the fact that there have been no incidents during the massive investigation, which began Thursday.
Texas officials say they were prompted to raid the ranch by a call from a 16-year-old girl who said she had been physically abused.
As of Saturday night, about 200 women and children had been taken from the ranch. Of those, 18 girls are in state custody. The rest are being assessed and interviewed to gauge their well being, a spokeswoman for the Texas Child Protection Services said Saturday.
She said foster placements had been found for the children in state custody and that temporary arrangements were being made for the other sect members as well. Since Friday, those taken from the ranch have stayed at the Schleicher County Civic Center or in the Fellowship Hall at the First Baptist Church.
Shannon Price of the Diversity Foundation, a nonprofit group in Utah that has helped teens leaving the FLDS community in Utah and Arizona, flew to Texas Saturday night at the request of Doran.
Price said she met with law officers at the command post last night and was returning again today to help them and social workers understand the FLDS culture.
She is prepared to help educate those working with the sect's children about "how to be appropriate" with the FLDS culture - from their history to clothing customs and language "that would be appropriate to use with these young ladies" in interviews about whether they've been sexually abused.
She said many of the young women taken from the ranch have cell phones and have been able to contact family members who remain there. They also were able to bring out some belongings.
"They are not out of communication with their families," she said, adding that Texas child protection workers were trying to be as culturally respectful as possible.
Price said that the state action was absolutely necessary given the isolation and control that has surrounded the sect's ranch.
"There is something wrong when you have a secretive community," she said.