ELDORADO, Texas (AP) -- Agents searching a 1,700-acre polygamist compound in West Texas found a bed in the soaring limestone temple and prosecutors believe it was used for male members to have sex with their underage wives after sect-recognized unions.
The discovery was revealed Wednesday as troopers completed their weeklong search of the grounds of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, said spokeswoman Tela Mange.
The temple "contains an area where there is a bed where males over the age of 17 engage in sexual activity with female children under the age of 17," according to an affidavit quoting a confidential informant who had been providing information to the Schleicher County sheriff for years.
Texas law prohibits polygamy and the marriage of girls under 16.
The search of the compound in Eldorado, 40 miles south of San Angelo, began last Thursday after a 16-year-old girl called a local family violence shelter to report her 50-year-old husband beat and raped her.
Since then, the state has taken legal custody of 416 children, who are being housed at two sites in San Angelo, about 200 miles west of San Antonio. Another 139 women voluntarily left the compound known as the YFZ Ranch and were being housed with the children.
Court documents said a number of teen girls at the compound were pregnant, and all the children were removed on the grounds that they were in danger of "emotional, physical, and-or sexual abuse."
On Wednesday, state officials said the women and children were in good overall health but would not comment on pregnancies. About a dozen children appear to have chicken pox but were being separated at the evacuation sites, which include an old historic fort and a convention center here, said Child Protective Services spokesman Chris Van Deusen.
Authorities were trying to determine the identities and parentage of many of the children; some were unwilling or unable to provide the names of their biological parents or identified multiple mothers.
During their search of the compound, agents found a bed in the temple with disturbed linens and what appeared to be a female hair, said the affidavit signed by Texas Ranger Leslie Brooks Long and unsealed Wednesday. The temple also contained multiple locked safes, vaults and desk drawers.
Officials still aren't sure where the 16-year-old girl is who made the initial call, and she is not named among the children in initial custody petitions by the state.
Texas has an outstanding arrest warrant for the man alleged to have been the girl's husband, Dale Barlow, 50. He's a registered sex offender who pleaded no contest to conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor in Mohave County, Ariz., last year. Troopers arrested two other men over the week and charged them with interfering with the search.
Lawyers for the sect had wanted to cut off the wide-ranging search as it dragged on but agreed in court Wednesday to the appointment of a special master. The special master will vet what is expected to be hundreds of boxes of records, computers and even family Bibles for records that should not become evidence for legal or religious reasons.
Gerry Goldstein, a lawyer for the church, said the search of the temple was analogous to a law enforcement search of the Vatican or other holy places. Prosecutor Allison Palmer argued it was to uncover any evidence of criminal activity, not to malign a religion.
The Texas investigation is the state's first of FLDS members, but prosecutors in Utah and Arizona have pursued several church members in recent years, including sect leader Warren Jeffs. He is serving two consecutive sentences of five years to life for being an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old wed to her cousin in Utah. Jeffs awaits trial on other charges in Arizona.
Associated Press writer Amanda Lee Myers in Phoenix contributed to this report.
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