Police have found two young girls allegedly kidnapped by their father, who court records say is a “doomsday prepper” belonging to a new religious group.
An Amber Alert that was sent about the two girls Monday afternoon was canceled at 7 p.m. The girls, 4 and 8 years old, were recovered shortly after a friend of their father was found and taken into custody west of Cedar City, in the Lund area.
Lt. Del Schlosser of the Iron County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Monday evening that Samuel Warren Shaffer, 34, was in custody of the Sheriff’s Office .
Shaffer was booked into the Iron County jail early Tuesday morning on suspicion of two counts of child kidnapping and four counts of reckless child abuse.
“For us, the value of the Amber Alert system, that was key in locating Mr. Shaffer and recovering the girls,” Schlosser said.
Shaffer was believed to be traveling with his two daughters and the two daughters of his associate, John Coltharp. Shaffer allegedly sees himself as a prophet for a new fundamentalist Mormon group, of which Coltharp, 33, is a member. Coltharp was arrested and booked into the Sanpete County jail Friday on suspicion of kidnapping and obstructing justice. Formal charges have not been filed.
Schlosser said a person called to report a single male walking about Lund. The male was Shaffer, and officers apprehended him. Shortly afterward, they located two young girls. One was one of Shaffer’s daughters, and the other was one of Coltharp’s daughters, Schlosser said.
Police found the other two girls shortly afterward, within 5 miles of Shaffer and the other pair.
“They were in good conditions,” Schlosser said, adding that they were cold and hungry before they were taken to Cedar City Hospital for medical evaluations.
“They were shaken, but as they got warmer, they became much more calm and talkative,” he said.
The girls had been with their father, who does not have legal custody of them, since September. The circumstances of their lives over the past few months are being investigated, Schlosser said.
Deputies from the Iron County Sheriff’s Office raided a compound in that county Monday, said Spring City Police Chief Clarke Christensen, and found Coltharp’s two boys, who also had been reported missing. A KUTV reporter tweeted video of law enforcers searching a train in Lund as a helicopter flew above.
Coltharp may have put his daughters in danger, said Kelly Peterson, an attorney representing Coltharp’s ex-wife, “and he has stated, according to my client’s understanding, that he would rather see the kids dead than with the police.”
On Friday, 4th District Judge Derek Pullan imposed a $100,000 cash bail in a divorce case between Coltharp and his ex-wife, citing Coltharp’s unwillingness to tell police where his daughters were.
Christensen said Coltharp refused to disclose the location of the children, even though the county prosecutor visited him in jail and offered him a deal in return for his cooperation.
“The information this morning was that he was going to make bail, and then the concern would be that he would be in the wind,” Peterson said Monday.
Coltharp’s sister, Cindi Ray, on Monday said her brother has fundamentalist Mormon beliefs, including support for polygamy, though he has never practiced plural marriage. Coltharp and Shaffer, Ray said, started a religion called Knights of the Crystal Blade and have baptized each other and one of Coltharp’s daughters.
On a website titled “The kingdom of God or nothing!!!,” Shaffer outlines a religious doctrine he says was handed down to him by God on the morning of June 22, 2015.
God told him the Book of Mormon is law, he says on the site, as is plural marriage. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has not endorsed polygamy since 1890.
Ray worried her nieces were being hidden so they could be placed in a marriage at an early age.
According to her, Coltharp has “said to all of [his] siblings in the past that girls are meant to get married at the age of 12 — their bodies are ready.”
According to court records from Coltharp’s divorce, his ex-wife said he is a survivalist “doomsday prepper” who distrusts modern medicine and refused to allow her to use pain medication during childbirth.
Coltharp’s ex-wife also says, Pullan wrote in a September ruling, that Coltharp carries a pistol and “has threatened to send any DCFS [Division of Child and Family Services] worker or police officer to the next life if they try to take the children from him.”
The court records say Coltharp’s group is called Knights of the Crystal Blade and is led by Shaffer, who is referred to as a prophet. He also goes by Fredrick Shaffer and has published writings and videos espousing fundamentalist Mormon beliefs.
Pullan, in that September ruling, denied a temporary restraining order that would have granted the ex-wife custody of all four children. Pullan said Coltharp’s religious beliefs were not extreme enough to constitute an immediate threat to the children.
But as normal divorce and custody proceedings continued, Pullan granted the ex-wife full custody on Nov. 27. Coltharp is accused of not turning the children over to their mother. Besides their two daughters, the former couple have sons, ages 7 and 6.
Samuel Shaffer’s brother, Benjamin Shaffer, said Monday that his brother is no threat to any of the children, and that he is probably just taking care of the girls to do a favor for his friend.
“I certainly hope they don’t go in there, guns blazing, threatening my nieces just because he’s taking care of other kids,” Benjamin Shaffer said before the girls were found.
Benjamin Shaffer also disputed the characterization of the Knights of the Crystal Blade in court documents. It is not a church, he said, but more of a club or fraternity that Samuel Shaffer and Coltharp formed to discuss philosophy and religion.
There is no record of Knights of the Crystal Blade being incorporated with the state, as most churches are.
Correction at 9:50 a.m. on Dec. 7, 2017 >> An earlier version of this article said Shaffer wrote that God told him coupling with children is law. Upon review, it appears Shaffer did not necessarily mean children literally but rather “All of [God’s] children” generally must partake in plural marriage. “All of mine children have the Key in their blood, wherefore they come to this knowledge when they truly partake of mine Sacrament; even plural marriage,” Shaffer wrote on a website titled “The kingdom of God or Nothing!!!