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Doomsday preppers married each other's underage daughters, police say

New search warrant reveals child trafficking allegations

SALT LAKE CITY — Two men in a southern Utah doomsday sect who face charges of child kidnapping are also suspected of marrying each other's underage daughters, according to a newly unsealed search warrant affidavit.

Samuel Warren Shaffer, 34, said to be the leader of a religious group described in court documents as "an LDS offshoot that believed in fundamental doctrines," and one of his purported followers, John Alvin Coltharp, 34, were arrested in December after police say they were keeping Coltharp's children from their mother.

After the two men were arrested and the children located — found across various areas of a five-mile "compound" in a remote area of northern Iron County — Shaffer told police he was "betrothed" to Coltharp's 8-year-old daughter, according to a search warrant. Additionally, Shaffer allegedly said Coltharp was "betrothed" to Shaffer's 7-year-old daughter.

Police also received information from a man in another state who said he talked to Shaffer and Coltharp about their religion, the Knights of the Crystal Blade, via social media. He later came to visit the men in Utah where he was "forcefully baptized by Samuel into their religion and promised a child bride," the affidavit states.

The man told police to look for a laptop where evidence of the correspondence could be found. Investigators seized four cellphones, three tablets, an external hard drive, four laptop computers, a Wi-Fi hotspot and 33 recordable CDs, according to the search warrant.

Coltharp's ex-wife described him as a "doomsday prepper who believes that the world will soon come to an end." She said that Shaffer is the "prophet" of the church Coltharp had joined.

Coltharp, of Spring City, was charged Monday with sodomy, a first-degree felony. The case comes on top of previous charges alleging child kidnapping, a first-degree felony, and obstructing justice by concealing a person, a class A misdemeanor.

Shaffer, of Cedar City, is charged with two counts of child kidnapping, a first-degree felony, and four counts of intentional child abuse causing injury, a second-degree felony.

No additional charges have been filed against Shaffer. Iron County Attorney Scott Garrett said Friday it is still possible that new charges could be added to his case as well.

Prior to the search for Coltharp's children, which triggered an Amber Alert throughout the state, police said their only interaction with Shaffer was in 2009 when he was overdue returning from a hike and a missing-person report was filed.

Coltharp's two boys were found in the care of their grandparents at a makeshift compound constructed of storage containers. The six children and four adults were living in the containers, which totaled approximately 800 square feet, according to police.

Investigators learned that Shaffer, Coltharp and the girls had been staying together in two of the storage containers, while the grandparents and the boys stayed in the other, according to the warrant.

The grandparents told police that for several nights leading up to their disappearance, Shaffer had been staying in a tent outside the trailers with all four girls, the affidavit states. When police found the tent partially taken down, they suspected Shaffer had fled with the girls during the night.

Coltharp's two girls were found hidden in a plastic 50-gallon water barrel that Shaffer had allegedly made them stay in for at least 24 hours in subfreezing temperatures, according to charging documents. Shaffer's two daughters were found "in poor health" in an abandoned mobile home "in deplorable living conditions," charges state.

Coltharp and Shaffer are due in court on Wednesday.