Sect members say life 'normal' on polygamous church ranch

By: By JENNIFER DOBNER
By: By JENNIFER DOBNER

ELDORADO, Texas (AP) -- Members of the embattled polygamist sect said Wednesday life was relatively normal on their West Texas ranch at the center of one of the nation's largest child-custody cases.

The Yearning for Zion ranch is owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints that state authorities raided two weeks ago in search of a 16-year-old girl who claimed her husband beat and raped her.

Child welfare officials have removed all 416 children living there from the custody of their parents. The 16-year-old has yet to be found.

Members gave a few tours to show their lives - isolated from what they regard as a hostile and sinful outside world - center on family and faith.

A gleaming, white limestone temple is the center of the 1,700-acre ranch with large, log-style homes, a school, a dairy, a rock quarry and a community garden planted with vegetables, fruit trees and a grape arbor.

No one who lives here calls it a compound.

"All of us say the ranch. It's the ranch. It's home," said Rozie, a 23-year-old married member of the sect.

Each family begins and ends the day with prayer, said Dan, 24, whose wife remains housed in the San Angelo Colesium complex 45 miles to the north with their 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son.

"It is lifeless here without our kids around here" he said. Sect members won't allow their last names to be used because they worry about the effect on their children in state custody.

A custody hearing to begin to decide whether the children, who range in age from six months to 17 years, will be in permanent state custody begins Thursday.

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