A year after FLDS raid, state says it has no regrets
Despite controversy, agency’s leader insists, sect’s children are better off
April 3, 2009
The dramatic removal of 439 children a year ago from a polygamist settlement was a sound decision and the state would not
hesitate to respond the same way again, Texas’ top child protection official said on Friday.
“Texas will not idly stand by while they sexually abuse children,” Anne Heiligenstein, commissioner of Texas Department of Family and
Protective Services, said, referring to her agency’s findings that 12 teen girls living on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter Day Saints’ ranch in West Texas were married to adult men.
Heiligenstein, named DFPS commissioner in December, said her agency’s staffers acted correctly, made no mistakes and returned
the children to a far healthier environment than the one they were taken from on April 3, 2008.
“We not only brought this issue of abuse to the light of day but we educated FLDS mothers and children about abuse, what it looks
like and how to report it,” the commissioner said. “The environment that the children returned to is safer than the one they left.”
Heiligenstein, whose agency oversees Texas Child Protective Services, made the statements at a news conference held on the
anniversary of the children’s removal.
A year ago Friday, CPS officials were dispatched to the breakaway Mormon sect’s Yearning For Zion Ranch after a caller claiming to
be an underage FLDS bride said she had been sexually and physically abused by her adult husband.
While the call was later determined to be a hoax, CPS workers made the decision to remove the children after they found several
teens who were either pregnant or mothers. Blaming FLDS ‘deception’ FLDS church members criticized the state’s raid of their
Yearning for Zion Ranch in Eldorado and have threatened a civil rights lawsuit against the state, which spent $12.8 million on the
But Heiligenstein said the FLDS’ initial resistance to CPS made the removal of the children more difficult than it needed to be.
“There was a pattern of organized deception,” she said, referring to staffers’ reports that both children and mothers deliberately
gave workers the wrong names or refused to give any information at all.
The commissioner also said teen girls on the ranch and their mothers now understand that underage marriage to adult men is
sexual abuse. She also said she believes that the church’s pledge last year not to “sanctify” underage marriage was also a
“A year ago today, FLDS was a community where sexual abuse of girls was a way of life,” Heiligenstein said. “Today, girls know
that the term ‘spiritual marriage’ is sexual abuse and they know if they call, someone will come.” Girl, 14, still in foster care
However, in a series of interviews with the girls, aired on the Oprah Winfrey Show this week, several teen girls told the talk-show
host that marrying adult men while underage was their destiny.
All but one of the 439 children were returned to their families after the Texas Supreme Court in May 2008 upheld an appeals court
ruling that said CPS acted too soon in removing the children from their homes.
That one child, a 14-year-old girl, remains in foster care. Documents indicate she was married to jailed FLDS leader Warren Jeffs two
years ago, when she was just 12.
As a result of the CPS investigation, 12 men, including Jeffs, have been charged for their roles in underage marriages. Those trials begin
in the fall.