SAN ANGELO, Texas — The last of the hundreds of children taken in the raid on the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch have now been reunited with their parents.
"All of the 440 children have been successfully returned to a parent or guardian," Texas Child Protective Services spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner said Wednesday.
Texas child welfare authorities also officially declared 26 young women — whom they believed to be minors — as legal adults. The state had initially claimed as many as 31 were underage mothers.
That leaves five underage girls pregnant or who have had children.
The children were reunited with their parents after Austin's 3rd Court of Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court ruled that Texas acted improperly in removing them from the YFZ Ranch. The return of the children does not end the CPS investigation into allegations of abuse on the FLDS property.
"Our investigation continues," Meisner said, declining to reveal any specifics.
A 16-year-old girl exempted from the massive order that returned the children will now be going home. A judge here on Tuesday signed a special order allowing the girl to go home to her mother — but she will have no contact with her father, FLDS leader Warren Jeffs.
Jeffs is currently incarcerated in an Arizona jail where he is facing trial on charges related to underage marriages. He was convicted in Utah of rape as an accomplice, for performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin.
"Respondent is ordered to take all measures necessary to prevent the child from having any contact, in any form, with Warren Steed Jeffs," Judge Barbara Walther wrote in the order reuniting the girl with her mother. "It is ordered that the respondent shall prevent the child from being within 1,000 feet of the location known as 'YFZ Ranch' in Eldorado, Texas."
On the day that Walther signed an order to reunite hundreds of children with their parents, the girl's attorney filed an emergency motion on behalf of her client.
"This child is an identified victim of sexual abuse," Natalie Malonis wrote in court papers.
Malonis sought the motion so she could work out an agreement with an attorney for the girl's mother and Texas child welfare authorities. The order returns the girl to her mother, who is expected to take parenting classes and cooperate with an ongoing CPS investigation. The family is restricted to living in the San Antonio area.
A man named Raymond Jessop is also prohibited from having any contact with her. The order does not say what the relationship he has with the girl...
"Respondent is ordered to notify law enforcement immediately if Respondent discovers that the person Raymond Jessop comes within 1,000 feet of the child's person or the child's residence, school or day-care facility," Walther wrote.
The raid began April 3 when authorities responded to a call from someone claiming to be a 16-year-old girl, pregnant and in an abusive marriage to an older man. The call is being investigated as a possible hoax.
When CPS and law enforcement arrived on the ranch, they said they found other evidence of abuse that prompted a judge to order all of the children removed from the FLDS property. Child welfare authorities have alleged a pattern of abuse at the ranch, with girls being groomed to become child brides and boys growing up to be sexual perpetrators.
The FLDS have denied any abuse.
A criminal investigation into allegations of abuse is also under way. Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran said he expected criminal charges would be brought against FLDS members, including Jeffs.
Reacting to a lengthy interview Doran gave to the Deseret News, FLDS member Willie Jessop said the sheriff betrayed their trust during the raid.
"This man had the people's trust, but he listened to anti-FLDS people and took them inside our sacred temple," said Jessop. "There is no forgiveness for that."
Jessop said Utah and Arizona deputies spoke to Doran the day of the raid about the purported calls. Doran knew those calls were investigated by the deputies and found to be a hoax, Jessop claims.
"The record shows that calls from deputies were made to Sheriff Doran before the raid began," he said. "He's lost a lot of credibility with us, the public and outside agencies. He knows that raid wasn't made in good faith."