New Mexico sheriff: Compound searched, 11 kids removed


Taos County Sheriff's officials say the children, ranging from age 1 to 15, were removed from the compound in the small community of Amalia and turned over to state child-welfare workers.

Lucas Morten and Siraj Wahhaj, 39, both of Georgia, were taken into custody after deputies executed a search warrant at the property in Amalia on Friday, according to the Taos County Sheriff's Office. However, on Monday, authorities said the women, who are believed to be the mothers of the 11 children, were arrested.

Authorities discovered the children while searching for a missing 3-year-old boy, who still hasn't been located.

Wahhaj was wanted for the abduction of his three-year-old son Abdul Ghani Wahhaj in Georgia, authorities said. The officer who helped them had been under the impression that the group was headed to New Mexico for a camping trip.

The search at the compound came amid a two-month investigation in collaboration with Clayton County authorities and the FBI, according to Sheriff Hogrefe. "So, we took a cautious approach, so that we didn't provoke anything that could lead to anyone being harmed, whether it be us, the people on the compound or the children".

The adults are facing child abuse charges.

The father of a missing Georgia boy is expected to make his first court appearance Tuesday, which could shed light on a weird tale of guns, exorcism and child abuse at a New Mexico compound.

"We all gave the kids our water and what snacks we had-it was the saddest living conditions and poverty I have seen", he continued.

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According to Hogrefe, the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been casing the compound, which is in a remote area of northern New Mexico but didn't think there was enough probable cause to get onto the property. The three women were taken into custody for questioning and were released, officers said.

The boy's mother told police her child, who she said suffered from seizures and development and cognitive delays, went to a park with his father Wahhaj last December and did not return.

Clayton County police said in a missing persons bulletin that Mr Wahhaj and his son were last seen on December 13 in Alabama, on the western border of Georgia, traveling with five other children and two adults.

The boy's father, Siraj Wahhaj, was arrested Friday along with his sisters Hujrah Wahhaj and Subhannah Wahhaj after authorities raided the compound. "He needs everything. I don't know if he's alive, or he is, well, I don't know his condition now".

The "breaking point" to enter the compound came on Thursday, when a text message believed to have been sent from an occupant of the compound - or someone with "great knowledge" of the compound - stated that there were starving children there. Abdul-ghani was believed to have been at the Amalia compound as recently as several weeks ago, Hogrefe said.

Taos County investigators wrote that they found "no food, clean water, leaking propane gas filthy conditions, hazardous wood and broken glass, no hygiene or medical care..."

"That was back in end of January or February", he said, and added that while he also saw the 11 other children, he never saw the three women whom law enforcement said also lived at the makeshift dwelling.

A defense attorney says criminal complaints accusing five adults of child abuse at a remote New Mexico compound are sparse in detail, leading to uncertainty about how much investigative work has been done.