Sunday, May 4, 2008

FLDS adults not suspected of abusing boys

State authorities are investigating whether younger boys taken from a polygamist ranch in West Texas were sexually abused by older boys, not adults, a state official clarified Thursday.

Documents taken from the Yearning for Zion Ranch near Eldorado indicate that younger boys were molested by older boys at the ranch, said the official, who asked not to be identified. No other details about the alleged abuse were available.

Meanwhile, the adult followers of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have begun leaving their 1,700-acre ranch and scattering across the state to be closer to their children, who were sent by the state into residential foster homes last week.

Willie Jessop, who has emerged as a de facto spokesman for the breakaway Mormon sect, said each day brings new groups of men and women packing their things and departing the ranch for faraway cities they once shunned.

"Who wants to be here on the weekend and not have their families?" Jessop said in a telephone call Thursday from the group's increasingly empty West Texas ranch. "I'm not aware of anyone who has not made a move or not trying to ... go be with their children."

How much they'll get to see their children, who remain in protective custody, is unclear. FLDS members have adamantly denied allegations of abuse of children at the compound.

Officials with Child Protective Services are in the process of arranging visitation, said agency spokeswoman Mary Walker. She said all visits would be supervised and would probably include fathers as well.

For now, Jessop said the adult followers are picking up the pieces of their shattered lives in big cities alien to them. They are applying for jobs, many with no outside work histories, and searching for apartments.

When asked to describe life back at the ranch, Jessop said: "How do you describe a life that you no longer know?"

At least 44 moms have been allowed to settle with their children in residential group homes because they are either nursing or because the state believes they are minors.

The 464 children now in state custody, including the healthy baby boy born to a girl at a hospital on Tuesday, are dispersed throughout the state. The newborn is the teen's second child; the first is a 20-month-old boy.

Individual custody hearings are to be completed by June 5.

According to bishop's records filled out in March 2007 by heads of household at the ranch, there were eight wives under the age of 18 listed in 35 households, The Associated Press reported Thursday. Several entries omitted ages of wives, however.

Under Texas law, children under the age of 17 generally cannot consent to sex with an adult. A girl can get married with parental permission at 16, but the girls who belong to the sect are not believed to have legal marriages.

Original Article -
FLDS adults not suspected of abusing boys - Houston Chronicle

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