When I heard that authorities were at the gates of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints compound in Eldorado last week, I immediately thought about the unfortunate culmination of the siege on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco 15 years ago.
On Feb. 28, 1993, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents raided the Branch Davidian compound, resulting in the deaths of six Branch Davidian members and four ATF officials. The raid was prompted by allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct and stockpiling of illegal weapons.
The FBI laid siege to the compound until April 19, when federal agents released tear gas into the building, where several fires quickly consumed the compound. In the end, more than 80 men, women and children were dead, including Branch Davidian leader David Koresh.
The situation in Eldorado had the potential to explode, especially since the FLDS employs armed guards and church officials initially resisted authorities entering the compound.
Law-enforcement officials were prepared for the worst, bringing in ambulances as they got ready to enter the temple, which sect members consider sacred.
Thankfully, the developing investigation has been peaceful so far as local and state authorities work to discover and document what has been going on in the gated compound.
Those of us in the media, and taxpayers in general, must hold government and law-enforcement officials accountable for wrongdoing and questionable decision-making. Clearly, officials made some serious mistakes in handling the Branch Davidian situation.
At the same time, we also should acknowledge when they do something right — especially when it could potentially save some of our most vulnerable residents from further harm.
Let’s look at what state and local authorities — and dozens of caring residents — have done in Eldorado. Details are still developing, but we know quite a bit about what’s going on from documents and state and local authorities.
Officials in Eldorado worked with state law-enforcement authorities and Child Protective Services personnel to remove more than 400 children from the YFZ Ranch. All the children were placed in state custody because officials found signs of abuse and deemed them in imminent danger.
The operation included Texas Rangers, CPS, deputies from Schleicher and Tom Green counties and game wardens from the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife.
Not surprisingly, individuals and businesses stepped up to lend a helping hand. It’s not surprising, because we see it time and time again in the Concho Valley when people need help.
First Baptist Church, Eldorado residents and businesses were quick to help those who were removed from the FLDS compound.
Now, Fort Concho in San Angelo has become their temporary home, while authorities work to document cases of abuse and learn more about the secret life of residents at the ranch.
All of this activity apparently was triggered by a teen-age girl’s phone call to law enforcement, saying she had a baby and married a 50-year-old man when she was 15.
No one knows what this investigation will ultimately turn up. What’s most important is that authorities acted on the complaint to ensure the safety of women and children.
My guess is that few of us were surprised that the FLDS was involved in a controversy. The secluded and secret lifestyle at the compound has been the subject of much speculation.
In recent years, law-enforcement authorities have taken significant interest in the FLDS — and for good reason. Former members of polygamist sects have spoken out with allegations of child abuse and forced marriages. In November, FLDS leader Warren Jeffs was sentenced to two consecutive five-year to life sentences in prison in Utah for being an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old girl who married her cousin in 2001. Before he was captured, Jeffs was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.
Many people are wondering why it took so long for authorities to intervene at the compound in Eldorado.
Even though most of us were suspicious that something was amiss there, you can’t raid private property based on suspicions.
It took the courage of someone to step forward and say enough is enough.
So far, it appears that local and state officials have acted responsibly by removing the women and children.
As the details unfold in this unfortunate situation, authorities must do whatever it takes to ensure that no one is being abused or victimized. Sadly, some residents at the ranch may not even realize they’ve been abused.
(Ty Meighan is the editorial page editor of the San Angelo Times. E-mail tmeighan(at)sastandardtimes.com)