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Polygamist ranch raid climaxed with nonviolent protest at temple

  • Story Highlights
  • Authorities on Thursday wrap up nearly a week at the Yearning For Zion Ranch
  • They say a 16-year-old girl said she was assaulted there after a "spiritual marriage"
  • The most tense moment came Sunday, at a temple the group considers sacred
  • There, 57 men fell to their knees, prayed and wept as officers raided
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ELDORADO, Texas (CNN) -- Nearly 60 men surrounding the temple of a polygamist sect in Texas dropped to their knees, prayed and wept openly -- but never violently resisted -- as law enforcement officers raided the building they hold sacred.

Authorities on Thursday wrapped up nearly a week at the YFZ (Yearning For Zion) Ranch, where they say a 16-year-old girl had called social workers and timidly recounted being beaten, choked and sexually assaulted by the 49-year-old man who had fathered her child after their "spiritual marriage" last year.

Two people were arrested and 416 children were taken into state custody at the ranch -- which is run by founder Warren Steed Jeffs' Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. At the ranch, authorities say, men routinely took multiple wives, and girls as young as 13 were forced into sexual relationships with adult men.

Authorities say the most tense moment of the raid came Sunday night, when they went to search the group's temple. As in mainstream Mormon worship, the group considers its temple sacrosanct, and custom forbids any nonbeliever from entering.

Texas Rangers and other law enforcement officials believed the church may have used that custom to hide children inside the building. Video Watch how children may be coping after being removed from compound »

"We knew that the temple was going to be the most sensitive issue and building on the property," said Texas Rangers Capt. Barry Caver, who over the past four years had made multiple contacts with leaders at the compound. "We opted to do that last -- we felt like if there was going to be any resistance at all, it would occur then."

Caver and Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran said they'd spoken repeatedly with Merrill Jessop, an elder in the church and supervisor of the ranch, in hopes the search would go as smoothly as possible.

But Caver said the elder told him the men of the church would draw a line at giving access to the temple.

"They lined up about 57 people, as we counted them, around the walls of the temple," Caver said. "They told us if they did not do that, then they would basically be in violation of their beliefs by not defending their temple."

While some of the men cried and prayed, none violently opposed the officers, Caver said. One man "decided to attempt to resist our entry" and was quickly arrested without incident, he said.

Another man was arrested during the days-long raid for attempting to destroy evidence. Both men have been released from jail on cash bonds.

Caver said no one was found inside the temple. But a Texas Rangers affidavit released Wednesday cited evidence that included unmade beds in the temple that an informant said were used for grown men to have sex with their young "spiritual wives" after weddings.

Also Thursday, Doran defended not raiding the 4-year-old ranch sooner, despite suspicions that FLDS men took multiple wives and had sex with teen girls.

"We are aware this group is capable of it," Doran said. "But, there again, this is the United States. We are going to respect them -- we are not going to violate their civil rights -- until we have an outcry, a complaint, and I've said that from day one."

On Thursday, a man who came to the gate at the ranch told CNN that "no family, only men" now remain inside the compound.

"We trust in the heavenly father," he said.

He then added: "We always believed America to be a free land."

Meanwhile, authorities did not directly address why the man named in the teen girl's telephone calls has not been apprehended -- even though his parole officer in Arizona says he checked in as recently as Tuesday.

Dale Evans Barlow, now 50, pleaded no contest in 2007 to charges of conspiracy to have sex with a minor. He was sentenced to 45 days in jail and placed on three years' probation.

In an e-mail to CNN, Friend Walker, chief of the Mojave County Probation Department in Arizona said authorities know where Barlow is and haven't been given a warrant for his arrest.

And Barlow himself told a Utah newspaper that he hasn't been to Texas in over 30 years.

"I do not know this girl that they keep asking about," Barlow said, according to an article in Thursday's edition of the Deseret Morning News.

Probation officials told CNN they talked to Barlow on the telephone Thursday and have no knowledge of him leaving his home in Colorado City, Arizona, for Texas. While they said the claims may be true, they said it also could be a case of mistaken identity because so many members of the FLDS have similar names.

Caver suggested authorities want to further interview the teen girl, whom state aid workers call Sarah, before making an arrest.

"Until we find her and sit her down and take a complete statement from her, and gather hopefully more information, we have no way of knowing" if Barlow should be arrested, he said.

Texas child welfare workers believe that they have the girl in protective custody but that she may be too scared to come forward and identify herself.


The children are being housed at a pair of shelters in nearby San Angelo, Texas.

In addition to the children, 139 adult women have voluntarily gone to the shelters. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

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