By DAN FROSCH
Published: May 1, 2008
New York Times
At least 41 children seized from a polygamist ranch in West Texas in April have had broken bones, and some young boys may have been sexually abused, Texas officials said Wednesday.
Those details and others about the 464 children removed from the Yearning for Zion ranch in Eldorado were part of an update by Carey Cockerell, commissioner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
Mr. Cockerell testified before a legislative committee in Austin.
Although the investigation into the sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was set off by accusations of marriages between under-age girls and older men, this was the first indication that boys might have been victimized.
“Based on interviews with the children and journal entries found at the ranch, we are continuing to look into the possible sexual abuse of some young boys,” a synopsis of the update on the agency’s Web site said.
Medical examinations and reviews show the broken bones, including injuries suffered by very young children, Mr. Cockerell said in prepared testimony to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. Officials did not offer evidence to support their assertions.
State officials cautioned that medical reports on the children were incomplete.
A spokesman for the department, Patrick Crimmins, said that the contention that boys might have been sexually abused was preliminary and that no conclusions had been drawn. Asked who might have abused the boys, Mr. Crimmins would say only the department was investigating what occurred on the ranch.
Rod Parker, a lawyer in Salt Lake City and a spokesman for the sect, called the accusations “half truths and implications without foundation.”
Mr. Parker said officials had floated the reports of broken bones to “malign these people and their culture, in order to insulate themselves from criticism of what they’re doing.”
Injured children, he added, were routinely treated by doctors outside the ranch and those doctors would have subsequently been legally obligated to report signs of abuse.
As for the possible sexual abuse of boys, Mr. Parker said it was an accusation with “no more validity than if there was a Sarah.”
That was a reference to the caller who set off the raid on April 3 who identified herself as Sarah, 16, and said she was being abused by her 49-year-old husband. The caller has not been found.
After the raid, confusion was widespread as investigators tried to identify children and parents and discern the children’s lineage.
That process, as described on Wednesday, quickly became muddled as investigators were given conflicting information.
“The women share parenting duties,” the update synopsis said. “They care for, console, discipline and breast feed each other’s children. When we ask a child who his mother is, he will tell us several names, because the children think of all the women in a house as their mothers, and all the children are considered their siblings.”
In other cases, women and children removed identification bracelets given to them by the state, or rubbed the wording off.
Mr. Cockerell said many girls, under pressure from the older women, refused pregnancy tests.
State officials have said that more than 30 of the 53 girls from 14 to 17 who were at the ranch are pregnant or have children. On Tuesday, one of them gave birth.