CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Parents call for help to find missing children linked to FLDS

Apr 17, 2023, 7:30 PM

Polygamist Warren Jeffs and defense attorney Tara Isaacson listen to testimony during Jeffs' prelim...

Polygamist Warren Jeffs and defense attorney Tara Isaacson listen to testimony during Jeffs' preliminary hearing 21 November 2006 in St. George, Utah. Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is charged with rape as an accomplice for his alleged role in forcing a teenager to marry her older first cousin. AFP PHOTO/POOL/Trent Nelson

SALT LAKE CITY — For years Utah has been plagued with rumors of missing children linked to the religious extremist Warren Jeffs of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS).

“They’re disappearing. They turn up missing. When you ask the FLDS, sometimes you’re told ‘they have just run away’,” family attorney Roger Hoole said in a press conference Monday. “These minor children don’t just run away. Somebody’s helping them.”

In 2006, the leader of the FLDS was sentenced to life in prison for a number of federal charges including multiple counts of sexual assault of minors.

Since then, many of his followers have discarded the radical religion. However, plenty haven’t- which has led to complicated marital affairs when it comes to the custody of children.

“Often when one parent leaves the group, and the other parent stays, there’s a conflict over parenting and it’s very difficult to co-parent” Hoole said. “What we are seeing is that, as parents try to co-parent, they’re not able to do so because one parent sees the other parent as a religious apostate with whom they can have no contact.”

The extreme nature of the FLDS

According to Hoole, the extreme nature of the FLDS belief system needs to be taken seriously.

“When people are absolutely convinced that they are right based on religion, sometimes they act against the law or above the law,” he said. “Sometimes they’ll fly an airplane into somebody else’s building to kill people.” 

“We need to take this more seriously in Utah and in surrounding states where these children are being hidden.”

Erna Black grew up as a member of the FLDS. She says she was trafficked with her siblings.

“They kept control over me by abusing my siblings,” Black said. “So if I didn’t do what they wanted me to do, then they would physically abuse my siblings.”

Black said she was trafficked to three different homes through a period of three years.

Hoole is giving legal representation to parents like Loranne Jessop who says three of her children have been missing since January.

“This is child trafficking. This is kidnapping,” she said.

Warren Jeffs is still giving orders to his followers from inside his Texas prison cell.

As recently as December last year the State of Utah filed kidnapping charges against Jeff’s nephew– Heber Jeffs. These charges came after he kept his 10-year-old niece from her mother in his home in Kingston, Utah.

It was shortly revealed that he was acting on orders from Warren Jeffs.

Police in Idaho, Utah and Arizona say they are actively investigating several cases, some going back months, others years.

Related: Polygamist sect leader accused of orchestrating girls’ disappearance

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Parents call for help to find missing children linked to FLDS