Cops Peacefully Enter Polygamist Temple

By: AP
By: AP

ELDORADO, Texas - Law enforcement agents entered an enormous temple on the grounds of a polygamist compound, but by Sunday morning they still had not found a 16-year-old girl whose initial report of abuse led to the raid.

"There were some tense moments last night, but everything has remained calm and peaceful and they are continuing their search," said Allison Palmer, a prosecutor from a nearby county handling the case, early Sunday.

More than 180 women and children were taken Friday and Saturday from the compound built by followers of polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, but Marleigh Meisner, a spokeswoman for Child Protective Services, said Sunday that investigators were still trying to determine whether the girl who called authorities last week was among them.

Many of the girls in the sect are related to one another and share similar names, Meisner said.

A busload of women were seen talking to law enforcement and a lawyer at a civic center early Sunday.

Palmer said Child Protective Services was still trying to identify the 16-year-old, and it wasn't clear if she was among those being interviewed or was even in the area.

State troopers armed with a search warrant raided the compound on Friday to look for evidence of a marriage between the girl, who allegedly had a baby at 15, and 50-year-old Dale Barlow.

Under Texas law, girls younger than 16 cannot marry, even with parental approval.

Barlow's probation officer told The Salt Lake Tribune that he was in Arizona.

"He said the authorities had called him (in Colorado City, Ariz.) and some girl had accused him of assaulting her and he didn't even know who she was," said Bill Loader, a probation officer in Arizona.

Palmer said Texas authorities have been in contact with those in Arizona but have not yet talked to Barlow. No arrests have been made.

Barlow was sentenced to jail time last year after pleading no contest to conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor. He was also ordered to register as a sex offender for three years while he is on probation.

The search warrant instructed officers to look for marriage records or other evidence linking her to the man and the baby. The warrant authorized the seizure of computer drives, CDs, DVDs or photos.

Those inside the retreat did not respond to requests for comment.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, headed by Jeffs after his father's death in 2002, broke away from the Mormon church after the latter disavowed polygamy more than a century ago.

The compound sits down a narrow paved road and behind a hill that shields it almost entirely from view in town. Only the 80-foot-high, white temple can be seen on the horizon. It remained lit throughout the night.

The 1,700-acre property had been an exotic game ranch, dotted with many buildings. Palmer said she couldn't say whether authorities had entered all the buildings but called it "a detailed search."

Eldorado (pronounced el-dor-AY'-do) is a two-stoplight town of fewer than 2,000 people and located nearly 200 miles northwest of San Antonio. It consists of a cluster of government buildings, a couple churches and a few blocks of houses surrounded by dusty, wind-swept land where sheep are raised and mohair is produced.

State officials said they did not know how many people lived at the retreat. Local officials estimated two years ago that about 150 people were there.

Jeffs is jailed in Kingman, Ariz., where he awaits trial for four counts each of incest and sexual conduct with a minor stemming from two arranged marriages between teenage girls and their older male relatives.

In November, he was sentenced to two consecutive sentences of five years to life in prison in Utah for being an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old girl who wed her cousin in an arranged marriage in 2001.


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