SAN ANGELO, Texas — Even after the raid on the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch that led to the removal of 437 children, 16-year-old "Sarah" continued calling for help.
Calls from her phone went to a battered women's shelter in Everett, Wash.; a southern Utah-based advocacy group for people leaving polygamy; a rape crisis line in Colorado Springs; an abuse counseling center in Ft. Meyers, Fla.; and an anti-polygamy activist in Arizona.
Those calls now appear to be a hoax, as an arrest warrant unsealed in a Colorado Springs court on Wednesday indicated phone numbers used to call the shelters match cell phones belonging to a woman named a "person of interest" in the Texas investigation.
The woman may also suffer from a multiple personality disorder, an arrest warrant affidavit suggested.
Colorado Springs police have been investigating Rozita Swinton, 33, for a series of hoax calls reporting child abuse, the affidavit states. Texas Rangers said a pair of cell phone numbers from the Colorado Springs area were possibly related to the calls that reported abuse at the YFZ Ranch.
But the phony calls will not undo the decision to take the children from the YFZ Ranch, said an attorney appointed to represent one of the children seized in the raid.
"That it was triggered by a call that appears to be a hoax does not affect the cases concerning the safety of the children," said Susan Hays, a Dallas attorney. "It might affect the criminal cases, but not the civil cases concerning the custody and safety of the children."
That is because what police discovered when they responded to the calls allows them to go forward. Texas Child Protective Services workers said they found other signs of abuse, including pregnant teenagers and child brides.
The calls were first made to the Newbridge Family Shelter in San Angelo on March 29 by a girl who identified herself as Sarah Barlow. She said she had an 8-month-old baby and was pregnant with another child. She said her husband, 49-year-old Dale Barlow, abused her and she wanted off the YFZ Ranch.
"Sarah Barlow desired to leave the YFZ Ranch compound, but stated to call takers that if she were caught, she would be locked in her room and not allowed to eat," the affidavit said.
It was that call and additional calls the next day that triggered the raid on the YFZ Ranch on April 3, and ultimately led to the removal of 437 children.
Anti-polygamy activist Flora Jessop also spoke to "Sarah" for more than 40 hours beginning March 30. "She sounded just like a little girl," Jessop told the Deseret News. "She was really damn good."
Meanwhile, "Sarah" had called a battered women's shelter in Everett, Wash., saying that her husband lived at an apartment complex there.
"Sarah Barlow advised she had been moved from the YFZ Ranch approximately three weeks ago and was assigned to a new husband named 'Merrill,"' the affidavit said, referring to Merril Jessop, who is in charge of the YFZ Ranch.
The girl also said she had been moved again, but was unsure where she was. It was at this time that FLDS women and children were being housed in emergency shelters. Authorities were questioning young women, trying to glean if they really were "Sarah," who had described herself as blond-haired, blue-eyed and pregnant.
Texas Rangers had already traveled to Utah to interview her purported husband, Dale Barlow, who was already on probation for his conviction stemming from a marriage to a 16-year-old girl. Barlow told the Deseret News he had never met "Sarah" and hadn't been to Texas in years.
"Sarah Barlow was fearful of revealing her true identity to anyone for fear that the 'sister wives' had told her that her baby would be taken away," Colorado Springs police detective Terry Thrumston wrote in the affidavit filed with the arrest warrant.
On April 10, the shelter in Washington called Schleicher County (Texas) sheriff's deputy John Conner, and put a crying "Sarah" on a three-way phone call.
"Sarah Barlow had repeatedly said she felt she would be punished for the trouble she caused," the affidavit said. "Sarah Barlow insisted that if she came forward her baby would be taken away."
The girl on the phone claimed to have a twin sister and wanted help getting her sister and mother out of Utah. "Sarah" said the women at the shelter brought teddy bears and small cars to the children, but she "didn't want to talk to one of the social workers because she was wearing a short-sleeved shirt."
"Sarah Barlow also stated that the 'sister wives' had told her the workers were trying to poison the people from the YFZ Ranch with food in shiny wrappers," Thrumston wrote.
The girl also blamed a worker at the Newbridge Family Shelter in San Angelo for the raid on the YFZ Ranch, the affidavit said, and would hang up saying the "sister wives" were coming or she needed to pray. Conner pleaded with "Sarah" to come forward, offering to help her leave the shelter area.
"Sarah Barlow advised deputy Conner not to wear red. Sarah Barlow also stated she wanted to leave the shelter at nighttime," the affidavit states. "Each time that deputy Conner would request a description of Sarah Barlow's location, she would not answer and finally hung up."
The court papers said the calls came from the same number, and "Sarah" said the phone belonged to a cousin in Colorado. The FBI traced the calls through phone records and eventually pointed Texas Rangers to Rozita Swinton's apartment in Colorado Springs.
The affidavit revealed that one number called the Snohomish County Shelter for Battered Women in Washington approximately 28 times from March 29 to April 12. That same number called the Newbridge Family Shelter in San Angelo 16 times from March 29 to April 5. Another number linked to Swinton called the shelter another seven times.
Colorado Springs police wrote they had already been investigating Swinton for a series of hoax calls including one in October 2007 where a 13-year-old girl named "Dana" said a youth pastor had sexually abused her. After days of phone calls with the hysterical girl who said she'd been locked in a basement, drugged and sexually abused by her father, police started linking the phone number to other calls in Longmont and Pueblo, Colo., where false reports of sex abuse had been made.
In September 2006, Colorado Springs Rampart High School counselor Catherine DiNuzzo called police about a girl named "April" who claimed her uncle was taking her to an abortion clinic. The counselor agreed to meet with "April" in front of the school. Police wrote that when DiNuzzo called the number, she saw a black woman answer the phone and run away.
Police also spoke to "April" several times, but the girl refused to talk to her face-to-face. Those calls continued through 2007, where numerous officers and and shelters received similar calls. Each time the phone numbers appeared to be the same.
In November 2007, police wrote that "April" — now going as "V," called DiNuzzo again and "congratulated Ms. DiNuzzo on having a baby and what a good mother she was. She advised 'V' told her she had seen her and her family out shopping. 'V' began calling Ms. DiNuzzo on a regular basis at work and home."
A new personality?
On Feb. 26, 2008, "Jennifer" called Colorado Springs 911 and said she was "locked in her basement since Friday because she had gotten in trouble," the affidavit states. Officers spent hours going
door-to-door through neighborhoods searching for the girl.
It was in one of the neighborhoods during the search that officers spoke to Jennifer Pierce, who was a counselor at the Trust, Education, Safety, Support and Action — a domestic violence shelter in Colorado Springs.
"Ms. Pierce asked if officers were looking for a female claiming to be locked in a basement," Thrumston wrote. "Ms. Pierce advised she knew who officers were looking for."
That led police to "Dana" and the same phone number.
In March, the affidavit said, police questioned Pierce again, who said she continued to get calls from "Dana" at a new telephone number, claiming to be locked in a basement and drugged.
"Dana" once told Pierce that she was in a domestic violence shelter, and that "it was actually her other personality that went to the safe house, 'Rozita,"' the affidavit said. "Ms. Pierce advised 'Dana Anderson' stated 'Rozita and Dana' are in the same body, just different personalities."
Colorado Springs police arrested Rozita Swinton last week for investigation of false reporting to authorities, a misdemeanor. When they served the search warrant on her home, Texas Rangers were there. The Texas Department of Public Safety confirms it seized items from her home that indicated a connection between Swinton and calls about the FLDS compounds in Colorado City, Ariz., and Eldorado, Texas.
Texas DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange said Wednesday the investigation was ongoing and Swinton remains just a "person of interest." She has not been arrested or charged in connection with the Texas case.
"We are still examining evidence that was seized from her residence and do not expect that investigation to be completed for a while," Mange said in an e-mail to the Deseret News. "Because there is an ongoing criminal investigation, we will be limiting our comments."
The affidavit, however, said that one phone number linked to Swinton by Colorado Springs police "was possibly related to the reporting party for the YFZ Ranch incident in Eldorado, Texas." Shortly after bailing out of jail, Jessop said, Swinton called her again claiming to still be "Sarah."
Swinton was convicted in connection with a 2005 case stemming from a false report in Castle Rock, Colo., where she claimed to be a 16-year-old girl named "Jessica" who wanted to abandon her baby and kill herself.
Numerous attempts to reach Swinton for comment have been unsuccessful. Colorado Springs authorities said she is scheduled to make her first appearance to the misdemeanor false reporting charge in May.
The Utah Attorney General's Office confirmed to the Deseret News it is investigating a similar call of abuse and whether it is connected to the calls that sparked the raid on the YFZ Ranch. A call was placed to child welfare workers in St. George, alleging child abuse and neglect. A Division of Child and Family Services spokeswoman said the information gleaned from the call "may or may not be related to an existing criminal matter."