Sunday, May 18, 2008

Judge will decide custody of hundreds of children taken from Texas ranch

By Sherry Koonce

BEAUMONT, Texas — Child custody hearings that begin Monday will determine what is next for 465 children taken from a polygamist sect, a Texas Department of Family and Protective Services representative said.

Shari Pulliam was among those who responded last month after a call purportedly from a 16-year-old girl who claimed her 49-year-old husband was abusing her at the Yearning for Zion ranch.

The caller was not found and now the state is trying to sort out parents and children and allegations and evidence and determine whether those living in the compound built by polygamist Warren Jeffs are practicing their religion within the law or abusing children on the secluded 1,700-acre ranch.

“The next two weeks could be crucial to see what happens,” said Pulliam, public information officer for the child protective services agency Region 5. “The judge could send all the children back. I don’t expect that, but he could.”

Pulliam said one of the hardest tasks has been determining the children’s names and their ages. It took four days to remove the children and their mothers and settle them in San Angelo.

“It was just an amazing experience — one where I witnessed many quiet moments of heroism,” Pulliam said.

She said the unprecedented legal proceedings that will follow are complicated by the number of cases — each child and each family has an attorney.

Pulliam said child protective services workers were treating the ordeal as they would any child abuse investigation.

She expects the next two weeks to be a very emotional time — much like the first time she was at the fundamentalist sect’s ranch.

“Emotionally, it was very difficult,” she said. “The experience impacted me greatly, especially since I have children of my own.”

Sherry Koonce writes for The Orange (Texas) Leader.

Original Article -

Cleburne Times-Review, Cleburne, TX - Judge will decide custody of hundreds of children taken from Texas ranch

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