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Affidavit: Teen bride's cry for help led to raid

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Officers report seeing apparently pregnant teens who seemed to be minors
  • NEW: 133 women are with children after leaving ranch voluntarily
  • 416 children from polygamist ranch in state custody
  • Ranch occupied by followers of imprisoned FLDS leader Warren Jeffs
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From Ed Lavandera
CNN
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SAN ANGELO, Texas (CNN) -- Tipped that girls as young as 13 were being forced to enter "spiritual marriages," have sex and bear children, Texas officials raided an isolated polygamist retreat in West Texas, according to court documents released Tuesday.

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Authorities load members of the FLDS onto buses as they search their Texas ranch for clues of abuse.

The information came from a 16-year-old girl who called a family violence hot line March 29, "expressing the need to leave her current living situation," according to the affidavit.

The teen bride said she was in an abusive "spiritual" marriage to an older sect member, the documents stated. She reported that she was the man's seventh wife and had been beaten and choked.

She said she had been hospitalized in the past with cracked ribs and hoped to escape the abuse by faking a medical condition. Video Watch a former plural wife describe her escape »

The allegations prompted police and social workers to remove hundreds of children from the 1,900-acre YFZ Ranch near Eldorado, the documents stated. The ranch was built by followers of imprisoned polygamist "prophet" Warren Steed Jeffs.

Girls deemed by adult sect members to be of "child-bearing age" were forced to submit to sex and have babies, according to the documents, which provided the legal basis for authorities to remove the children and place them in state custody.

The 16-year-old said her parents brought her to the ranch a year ago and she was "spiritually married to an adult male member of the church," the affidavit said. Video Watch woman discuss life in FLDS household »

According to the affidavit, the teen bride reported her husband "beat and hurt her whenever he got angry -- hitting her in the chest and choking her -- and that while such abuse was occurring, one of the other women in the home would hold her infant child."

On March 30, the teen called again. She told workers she was last beaten Easter Sunday. Her husband told her if she tried to leave the ranch "she would be found and locked up."

She said church members also told her if she left the ranch "outsiders will hurt her, force her to cut her hair, to wear makeup and [different] clothes and to have sex with lots of men."

The girl told shelter workers she was calling from someone else's cell phone to avoid being caught and whispered quietly during the conversations, according to the affidavit. At the end of the second call, the document states, she suddenly told workers "she is happy and fine and does not want to get into trouble and that everything she had previously said should be forgotten."

Authorities raided the ranch Thursday. Since then, 416 children have been removed and placed in the custody of the state's Child Protective Services, spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner said.

Social workers have completed their work at the ranch, and said they believed all the children at risk had been removed, Meisner said.

It remains unclear whether the teen who reported being abused was among the children removed from the ranch or was taken from the compound under a different name before authorities arrived.

Court documents said evidence was found at the ranch indicating a pattern of arranging polygamous marriages between adult sect members and underage girls. Video See buses take girls from compound »

The affidavit said while child welfare workers and law enforcement officers were searching the ranch, they saw a number of apparently pregnant teen girls who appeared to be minors and others who already had children.

The affidavit said researchers also learned that children are "denied of nutrition" and forced to sit inside closed closets as punishment.

In addition to the children, 133 women have left the ranch voluntarily and joined the children in a shelter in San Angelo -- about 45 miles north of the ranch, Meisner said. No men were allowed, she said.

Future court hearings will determine whether there is enough evidence to keep the children from returning to the ranch. A hearing is scheduled April 17. The children will be appointed lawyers and legal guardians in about two weeks, Meisner said.

Two men have been arrested -- allegedly for interfering with the investigation, authorities said.

Levi Barlow Jeffs, 18, is accused of interfering with the duties of a public servant. Leroy Johnson Steed, 40, is accused of tampering with evidence. No further information was immediately available.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints bought the ranch four years ago and began erecting dormitories and a large white temple. Hundreds of Jeffs' followers moved from Arizona and Utah as authorities there stepped up their own investigations.

The name is taken from one of Jeffs' spiritual songs, "Yearning for Zion."

The documents released Tuesday did not name the husband the teen bride accused of beating her. But last week, officers entered the compound with a search warrant for 50-year-old Dale Evans Barlow, who they believed was married to the 16-year-old tipster.

His whereabouts remain unclear, although some published reports said he is with his family in Colorado City, Arizona, and claims not to know his accuser. Barlow was not named in the affidavit.

CNN's previous visits to the ranch revealed the compound was guarded by armed men equipped with night-vision gear and other high-tech surveillance tools.

Authorities have not said whether they found weapons.

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Jeffs remains jailed in Kingman, Arizona, where he awaits trial on four counts of incest and sexual conduct with a minor stemming from two arranged marriages between teenage girls and their older male relatives.

Jeffs was sentenced in November to two terms of 5 years to life for being an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old girl who said she was forced to marry her cousin. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Tracy Sabo contributed to this report.

Copyright 2008 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

All About Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day SaintsWarren Jeffs

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