SAN ANGELO, Texas – It may be some time before authorities here in West Texas fully untangle the web of secrecy surrounding the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints compound near Eldorado. For journalists, specifics about the investigation are hard to come by, because a district judge has imposed a gag order on police who are searching the compound again today.
What we do know is that authorities are concerned about possible sexual abuse of children, specifically teenage girls. They received a call from a 16-year-old girl last week, who told them she had been forced to marry a 50-year-old man at the age of 15, and gave birth to his child eight months ago.
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On the strength of that complaint, police and Child Protective Services served the compound a search warrant, removed 220 women and children, and have taken legal custody of at least 18 children.
Residents of the small town of Eldorado, and nearby San Angelo, have expressed concern for years about the women and children living at the compound. Warren Jeff's, who built the compound, is currently serving time in an Arizona prison. 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.
A waitress I spoke with at a San Angelo restaurant voiced those concerns last night.
"It's a shame what's happening with those women and kids," she told me, "but I'm glad police are finally doing something about it. What's happening out at that place just isn't right."
Right or not, under Texas law, girls younger than 16 cannot marry, even with parental approval.
Whether illegal marriages of underage girls, or worse, was taking place at the compound is still an open question, one that the investigation in West Texas hopes to resolve.