In midst of FLDS raid, ranch boss presses for 'public outcry'

Published April 9, 2008 1:08 am
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SAN ANGELO, Texas - Sounding weary and anxious, Merrill Jessop spoke briefly to The Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday about the law enforcement investigation now in its fifth day at the YFZ Ranch in Eldorado.

Jessop, who oversees the ranch and is a presiding elder in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, said a sizeable law enforcement force remained at the ranch. Authorities have removed 419 children, who are accompanied by 139 women.

"There needs to be a public outcry that goes far and wide," Jessop said. "What's coming we don't know. The hauling off of women and children matches anything in Russia or Germany."

Jessop said the ability to communicate with those outside - and family members taken from the ranch - is rapidly diminishing as officers confiscate cell phones "as fast as they find them."

Tom Green County District Judge Barbara Walther issued a new search warrant Sunday that allows officers to take away communication devices.

The only arrests so far have been of two men accused of misconduct as the ranch has been searched. On Monday, law officers arrested Levi Barlow Jeffs, 19, for interfering with the duties of a public servant, a class B misdemeanor. He is the oldest son of FLDS leader Warren S. Jeffs, according to former sect members.

The teen was booked into jail but was released after posting bail. Leroy Johnson Steed, 41, was arrested at the ranch Monday night for tampering with physical evidence and booked into the Schleicher County Jail. He was arraigned Tuesday and released on bond.

Jessop said that those at the ranch have no Internet or television access and have no way to know what has become of the removed children and women. He expressed concern for their well-being.

Jessop said he was a young man at the time of the 1953 Short Creek Raid, when Arizona authorities took away all the community's women and children and kept them in state custody for two years.

Jessop said there were "a lot of things that need to be said" and that attorneys representing the sect would be doing that. A court hearing on FLDS filings objecting that the raid has been unconstitutional is set for today.

Jeffs, 52, became president of the FLDS Church, based in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., in 2002. He has been convicted in Utah of two counts of rape as an accomplice, stemming from a 2001 marriage he performed. He is now in jail in Arizona facing similar accusations.


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