Mothers who had lived at a polygamist compound in Eldorado, Texas, are mounting a campaign to get back their children, who were taken into custody by the state after a raid on the compound earlier this month.
A group of mothers from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints sent a letter to Texas Gov. Rick Perry asking him to see for himself what they call the “appalling and traumatizing” conditions at the shelter where 416 children are being held.
An investigation into claims of abuse at the polygamous compound is moving to a San Angelo, Texas, courthouse this week.
The state is expected to argue that it should retain custody of the children while officials investigate the abuse claims. Hundreds of attorneys are on their way to San Angelo to represent each child at a custody hearing scheduled for Thursday. Today the presiding judge will determine the order of the cases in court hearings that begin this morning.
Authorities raided the compound on April 3 after a after a domestic violence hotline recorded a complaint from a 16-year-old girl, who said she was physically and sexually abused by her 50-year-old husband.
Doctor: Kids Want to Go Home
Some mothers from the Eldorado sect toured the compound’s empty homes with reporters and photographers from the Deseret News, a Utah newspaper owned by the Mormon church.
“We are not child abusers. The only abuse they’ve ever had is since the CPS [Child Protective Services] has taken them,” a mother named Shannon told the newspaper.
The mothers say the conditions at the state shelter are so cramped that the children are scared and many are sick. At least a dozen children have contracted chicken pox.
The state is spending more than $25,000 a day to care for the 416 children and their mothers, according to reports.
Dr. Stephen Smith has been providing medical care at the state shelter, and he says he is upset by what he has seen there.
“All of the mothers and children that I spoke with wanted to go back to the ranch, without a doubt,” Smith told ABC News. “Personally, it makes me very sad for what we have done.”
Texas officials say the state was absolutely right to take custody of all the children.
“These children are with us because we believe they have been abused or neglected, and at this point in time no one else is going to be visiting those children,” said Marlay Mesiner of the Texas Family and Protective Services.
The teen who made the call for help that prompted the raid has yet to be identified.
The man whom the teen named as her husband, Dale Barlow, a convicted sex offender, was interviewed by Texas Rangers over the weekend in Utah.
Barlow’s attorney, Bruce Griffen, says he can prove that Barlow has not been in Texas for years. Barlow has not been taken into police custody.
“We made it very clear to them that their accusations are not accurate,” Griffen told ABC News.
The few members of the fundamentalist sect who remain at the Eldorado ranch say that their religious rights have been violated.
“In every way I look at this, it’s more of the same. It’s religious persecution,” said a church member named Richard.