Polygamous mothers decry loss of children; Texas says it was necessary
ELDORADO, Texas - Concealing their anger but not their tears, more than two dozen women of a polygamous sect told reporters they were surrounded by troopers and forced to leave their children in state custody Monday.
In an extraordinary break from past reticence, the women met with reporters at the YFZ Ranch hours after leaving their children and accused the Texas Child Protective Services of lies and trickery.
"They just as well line us up and shoot us as take our children away," said Donna, a 35-year-old mother who left behind a 10-year-old daughter. The women used only their first names.
After a week's stay at two makeshift shelters - described by one woman as a "concentration camp" - state authorities moved women and children to the San Angelo Coliseum on Monday, promising them they were being taken to a "bigger, better" place. They were told they would be reunited with other family members, the women said.
Once at the coliseum, the women were separated according to the ages of their children.
Mothers of those age 6 or older were herded into a room, each one flanked by a CPS worker. More than 50 troopers, according to the women, lined the room. The women were given a choice: return to the ranch or go to a domestic violence shelter.
Their children, they were told, were no longer theirs. "They told us the state is in charge of them now," said Donna.
"They wouldn't even let us go back and say goodbye to our children," said Sarah, who now has five children, ages 8 to 16, in state custody.
Like many of the women, she wept as she spoke.
Marissa Gonzales, spokeswoman for CPS, said 82 women remained Monday with the youngest of the 416 children taken from the ranch. She said 51 women returned home and six chose to go to a "safe location."
Rod Parker, a Salt Lake City attorney representing the FLDS families, said no women went to the shelter.
One woman said that CPS workers pressed the women to go to the shelter, assuring them they would see their children more often if they did.
Donna said she didn't believe it. "We have not been able to trust anybody."
State authorities raided the YFZ Ranch on April 3 after receiving a report from a local family violence shelter that a 16-year-old girl telephoned several times, claiming she had been abused by her "spiritual" husband.
The women from YFZ Ranch said Monday the girl does not exist and the calls were a hoax.
"It is a bogus person. It is a person they made up. That person does not exist on this land," said Joy.
Janet said no one has heard of the girl named in a search warrant. "She is a fictitious person."
Another girl with a name similar to that of the girl in the search warrant was grilled for hours by investigators, Janet said. They kept telling her " 'You are this girl. Why don't you want our help?' " she said.
State officials said Monday they still have not located the caller but are "hopeful" she is among the children in custody.
Texas CPS say that because of a "pervasive pattern" of abuse and exploitation at the ranch, all children need to be removed.
The women said no one is forced to stay at the ranch and that anyone can leave at any time, contrary to the state's contention that it is a closed, controlled community.
Teenage girls were separated early on after the raid, and several mothers said that boys 12 and older were taken away Sunday. CPS said the boys have been moved to a facility "outside the area."
One mother said she was asked if her two daughters, 15 and 16, were married or pregnant. She said no. The girls were given pregnancy tests, she said, and the results proved she was truthful.
Asked if any teenage girls were pregnant, the women refused to answer.
Monday evening, reporters were allowed to travel the half-mile dirt road onto the ranch and were escorted to a log building, where they were met by the women, whose faces were drawn and weary.
Construction of the ranch began four years ago by members of the FLDS faith, most of whom lived in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.
The women described how Texas Rangers and CPS workers came knocking on their doors and began removing their children 11 days ago.
Sarah said she and her two teenage daughters were taken to a school building at the ranch, where authorities spent three or four hours questioning the girls. She has not seen the girls since.
"We just want our children back, clean and pure," she said.
While at Fort Concho, the woman said her 10-year-old son was asked by CPS workers if he was married and if he had ever been touched in "sacred" places.
"He said, 'Of course not. That is a stupid question,' " Sarah said.
Donna said that living conditions at the shelters became harsh Sunday when CPS confiscated the women's cell phones and forced even the smallest child to pass through a metal detector. Their bedding was searched, too.
When they were hastily separated from their children on Monday, the women had to leave bags of belongings - including medication - behind.
They described some of the CPS workers and troopers in tears as the women were loaded on buses that took them back to the ranch.
"There were a few whose hearts were touched," said Mary, now separated from her 8-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son.
"The truth is we need our children and our children need us," said Donna.
Janet said her 11-year-old son was hopeful that the buses were taking them home.
"The last thing my little boy said is, 'I just want to go home.' "
* CHRISTOPHER SMART contributed to this story