7 Apr 2008

Escaping From Polygamy: Police Continue Search for Teen

ABC News - April 7, 2008

After Weekend Raid, 200 Women and Children Are in Custody


The more than 200 women and children removed from a fundamentalist Mormon sect compound in Eldorado, Texas, this weekend are secure in nearby San Angelo, but officials say most are afraid to speak candidly about what happened inside their church.

Authorities continue their search for a 16-year-old girl who allegedly called police with a report of sexual abuse last week that prompted the raid.

Police are questioning the women and children taken from the compound in the hopes that the missing girl is among them.

"I am confident that this girl does indeed exist and I am confident that the allegations that she brought fourth are accurate," said Marleigh Meisner, of Texas Child Protective Services.

Complicating the situation is the fact that everyone in the group is affiliated with convicted polygamist Warren Jeffs and claims to be related to one another. They share the same names and officials are having a difficult time determining a connection to the missing girl.

Authorities don't know which, if any, of the girls may be incest victims.
'Mind Control'

Former sect members say it may be difficult to get the evacuated women to talk. When she was 18, Carolyn Jessop was married to a 50-year-old before she later escaped with her eight children.

"This is a very difficult thing because the mind control. I mean, you're dealing with multiple levels of control. The idea that you'll go to hell if you speak out, the idea of losing friends, family, relatives. I mean, it's the eternal consequences, but there's also very real physical consequences you'll face today if you speak out," Jessop said. "Then the other thing that these girls would have to do to come forward is they would have to trust the person they were talking to that this person would be able to protect them, and that's a tremendous thing."

Jessop, who was married to leader Merrill Jessop before she made her daring overnight escape five years ago, said she believes she saw TV footage of one of her stepdaughters being loaded onto the awaiting buses, but hasn't had any contact with any of the women.

"The situation is just basically in lockdown. There's only been four of us even allowed who have family members inside to speak to officials," she said. "So far they are not allowing anyone to speak to the people that they've removed."

Jessop added that the group had a history of physical and emotional abuse.

She said that leaders were allowed to beat children deemed unruly and that her ex-husband used a specific form of water torture to break rebellious children.

"There was a tremendous amount of violence towards children and he used a form of water torture with infants to break their spirits," Jessop said. "He would hold their head under a tap of running water when they were crying."
Call to Crisis Hot Line

It was a girl's call to a crisis hot line alleging physical abuse by her 50-year-old husband that brought about the weekend raid, where leaders initially refused to let authorities enter and police worried the situation could escalate. But overnight Saturday, they began letting police in and buses soon whisked away women and children.

The evacuations continued into Sunday on the 1,700-acre farm that Jeffs' followers built to seal themselves off from the outside world.

The location had everything it needs to sustain itself including water and sewer, crops and an irrigation system.

Jeffs, the group's leader and a self-proclaimed prophet, was sentenced in November to two consecutive terms of five years to life in prison in Utah as an accomplice to rape for arranging a marriage between then-14-year-old Elissa Wall and her 19-year-old cousin.

Today Jeffs, who had an estimated 70 wives, sits inside an Arizona jail awaiting prosecution on separate charges.

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