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Dozens of sect children moved to foster care

  • Story Highlights
  • The group moved from San Angelo Coliseum has already had DNA samples taken
  • Judge signs an order authorizing their transfer to foster care
  • Sect launches a Web site to promote its side of events
  • Site asks for donations to help cover "massive litigation costs"
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SAN ANGELO, Texas (CNN) -- About 100 of the 437 children taken from a polygamist sect's Texas ranch amid allegations of sexual abuse were moved Tuesday to foster homes, the Texas Department of Health and Family Services said.

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Photos from a new Web site launched by the polygamous sect FLDS show authorities raiding its Texas ranch.

But a spokesman for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints families quickly criticized the transfer.

"This was done without prior notice to their attorneys or to their families," Rod Parker said.

He accused the state's Child Protective Services Department of being "afraid of due process."

The FLDS also launched a Web site this week to promote its side of the issue.

The site contains photos and videos taken inside the YFZ (Yearning For Zion) Ranch near Eldorado, Texas, during the raid earlier this month.

Officials have revised the number of children taken from the FLDS compound, which originally stood at 416.

The initial count was rushed, they said, and they have discovered that some females were not 18 or older, as they claimed. Those young women are now being counted as minors.

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The children moved Tuesday have already had DNA samples taken as part of ongoing testing to determine their biological parents, officials said.

They were loaded onto buses and moved from San Angelo Coliseum, where they were being held. Video Watch children wave goodbye as they leave on buses »

Troopers sealed off the building's exits and turned away pedestrian and vehicular traffic while the move was taking place.

Judge Barbara Walther -- who last week ordered the testing of all the children at a custody hearing and decreed they would remain in state custody -- signed an order authorizing their move to foster care, officials said.

Lab workers continued taking DNA samples from the remaining children. The testing involves taking samples from the inside of the cheek with a cotton swab.

The DNA samples will be matched against those taken from adults from the ranch run by the FLDS -- a Mormon offshoot that practices polygamy.

The DNA testing of the adults from the ranch is voluntary. But the FLDS spokesman called it "unprecedented in our country on this scale." The parents have complied only because they want their children back, Parker said.

"I think every American needs to be very fearful of what Child Protective Services is doing in Texas," he said. Video Watch Parker say the families need to be heard »

Some of the children's elusive or changing responses in interviews with child welfare workers have made murkier already ambiguous family relationships, including identifying the children's parents, child welfare officials say.

The DNA samples will be sent to Laboratory Corporation of America, based in Burlington, North Carolina. It could take longer than a month to get results.

The state removed the children as it investigates allegations of abuse at the YFZ Ranch. Critics of the sect say it arranges marriages for girls as young as 13. FLDS followers deny there is abuse.

The FLDS says its new Web site was created "to help the innocent children that were living at the YFZ Ranch."

"The Child Protection Services of the State of Texas has taken every child and now has them in state custody. This site will keep you informed of the latest information and events in relation to the innocent children being returned to their parents," according to the home page.

The site said many people have asked what they can do to help, and said donations are needed to help cover the "massive litigation costs associated with these lawsuits." A link allows online donations.

Authorities say a series of phone calls in late March from 16-year-old "Sarah" prompted the raid, which began on April 3. The caller, who said she was living on the ranch, reported that she had been beaten and forced to become an adult man's "spiritual" wife.

Authorities have yet to locate the caller, whom members of the sect say does not exist.

However, Texas Rangers are pursuing a Colorado woman as a "person of interest" in connection with the phone calls that touched off the raid.

A search of Rozita Swinton's home in Colorado Springs yielded evidence that possibly links her to the phone calls made about the YFZ ranch, authorities said. Swinton, 33, has been charged in Colorado with false reporting to authorities, but police said that the arrest was not directly related to the Texas case.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott told CNN last week that "the case really doesn't hinge upon that particular 16-year-old."

He said, "It's our belief that these children who are under the age of 17 have engaged in sex with older men, which is a violation of Texas law, which is also a potential violation of the bigamy laws," he said.

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"So yes, we do believe we have information that will be substantiated in court that will show there has been sexual assault as well as bigamy."

The FLDS is not associated with the mainstream Mormon church, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Journalist Cheryl Getty contributed to this report.

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