COLORADO CITY, Ariz.— Arizona officials say they suspect two teenage girls who ran away from their Colorado City homes in January with the help of an anti-polygamy activist and later fled a Phoenix safe house are not missing but are simply in hiding.
"Obviously there are people who know where these girls are," said Matt Brown, Glendale, Ariz., Police Department spokesman. "We believe they are deliberately missing. We believe they left and did not run away. This isn't really a missing-person case."
Glendale police detectives have checked places where the girls were last seen or might be, without success, Brown said.
"We believe they might be with people they know," he said, adding the department has released a photo of the girls and listed the pair on a national missing person database. "We believe they are in the Phoenix area, but we'd like to make sure they are OK."
The released photo shows anti-polygamy activist Flora Jessop with her arms around the girls, 16-year-old Fawn Broadbent and 17-year-old Fawn Holm. The same photo is posted on Jessop's Web site with the word "Fugitive" printed in bright red letters on the girls.
Jessop, who grew up in Colorado City and ran away at the age of 16, leads Help the Child Brides, an anti-polygamy activist organization. On the group's Web site, Jessop's biography states she was betrayed by state officials who forced her to return home where she was beaten, locked up for several years and threatened with marriage to an already married, older man.
Instead, she married Philip Jessop, her first cousin, and left him after a couple of weeks.
"It was either marry him or get sent to the state mental hospital," Jessop said in an earlier interview. "I left him because I needed to grow up."
Another account of Jessop's teen years was published in the March 25,1986, edition of the Spectrum newspaper. In the article, Jessop is said to have called her guardian from Las Vegas two months after she ran away. She was looking for a ride home, according to the article.
A Utah child welfare official is also quoted in the article as saying, "In Flora's situation, I think she made her choice by going back, so I don't think we have an obligation to put her in a foster home under those circumstances. She made a choice to go back home, and that's where she should be."
The girls, who are now temporary wards of Arizona under the guidance of the Office of Child Protective Services, had been staying in Phoenix with a friend of Jessop's when they reportedly ran away.
A few days before the girls were reported missing, a Maricopa County judge issued a restraining order against Jessop that would have kept her from contacting the girls.
Jessop, who claims to have rescued the teens after they fled their Colorado City homes, said the girls ran again because the state wanted to cut off her access to them and because they were afraid of being sent home. The girls left behind handwritten notes that support Jessop and accuse Arizona officials of trying to cut her out of their lives.
Both sets of parents have been working with Arizona officials for weeks in an effort to help place the girls in a safe environment. The Broadbents are considering a request by Fawn Holm's oldest brother, Carl Holm, to let their daughter live with him and his family in northern Utah.
Carl Holm's wife, Joni, said the girls are safe and are with her 18-year-old daughter, Megan.
"I talk with the girls daily. They call me, but I don't know where they are," Joni Holm said last week. "I don't know who is paying for their room and board, and I don't think I want to know."
Jessop and her organization might be footing the bill, a possibility Joni Holm did not want to discuss and one Jessop has denied.
"This is not about polygamy. I'm not against polygamy. It's about the girls and making sure they're safe," she said.
Fawn Holm's parents, on the other hand, would just like their daughter to come home.
"She's my baby girl. I love her," said Fawn Holm's mother, Esther. "I keep waking up at night, dreaming that Fawn is calling out for me and I don't know where she is."