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Mothers from Texas sect ask for governor's help

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Jennifer Dobner
Associated Press / April 14, 2008

SAN ANGELO, Texas - The mothers of children removed from a polygamous sect's ranch in West Texas after an abuse allegation are appealing to Governor Rick Perry for help, saying some of their children have become sick and even required hospitalization.

In the letter, the mothers from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints also say children are "horrified" by physical examinations they have undergone while in state custody.

The mothers said the letter was mailed Saturday. Perry spokesman Robert Black said yesterday that he had not seen the letter and couldn't comment.

About 416 children were rounded up and placed in temporary custody 11 days ago after a domestic violence hot line recorded a complaint from a 16-year-old girl. She said she was physically and sexually abused by her 50-year-old husband.

The one-page letter, signed by three women who contend they represent others, says about 15 mothers were away from the property when their children were removed.

"We were contacted and told our homes had been raided, our children taken away with no explanation, and because of law enforcement blockade preventing entering or leaving the ranch, we were unable to get to our homes and had no-where to go," it said. "As of Wednesday, April 9, 2008, we have been permitted to return to our empty, ransacked homes, heartsick and lonely."

The mothers said they want Perry to examine the conditions in which the removed children have been placed.

"You would be appalled," the letter said. "Many of our children have become sick as a result of the conditions they have been placed in. Some have even had to be taken to the hospital. Our innocent children are continually being questioned on things they know nothing about. The physical examinations were horrifying to the children. The exposure to these conditions is traumatizing them."

A judge will decide this week whether the children will remain in state custody or return to their families. Hearings are scheduled for today and Thursday.

Yesterday, state officials enforced a judge's order to confiscate the cellphones of the women and children removed from the ranch. The order was sought by court- appointed attorneys for 18 girls in the state's custody, said Marissa Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for Texas Child Protective Services.

Reading from the court document, Gonzalez said attorneys reasoned that cutting off communications would "prevent the possible tampering of witnesses."

Affidavits filed by child protection workers said they found a pattern of abuse at the Yearning for Zion ranch in Eldorado, about 45 miles south of San Angelo.

The 1,700-acre fenced ranch, a former game preserve, was bought by the church in 2003. A number of large dormitory-style homes have been built, along with a small medical center, a cheese factory, a rock quarry, a water treatment plant, and a towering, white limestone temple.

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