Texas police are interviewing 220 women and children who were removed Friday from a secretive religious retreat built by polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, authorities said.
State troopers are looking for evidence to back allegations that a teenage girl married a 50-year-old member of the community and had a baby with him when she was 15. Such a marriage would be illegal under Texas law, which prohibits girls under age 16 to marry, even with parental approval.
The girl, who is now 16, phoned police last week, prompting Friday's police raid of the 700-hectare compound in the small town of Eldorado, about 300 kilometres northwest of San Antonio.
Authorities do not yet know if the teen is among the 220 women and children who were taken from the retreat to the San Angelo Museum, which is north of Eldorado.
As of Monday, 18 children of the children had been legally taken into state custody, a move Child Protective Services makes when it believes children have either been harmed or are in imminent danger. The 18 are now living with relatives.
Marleigh Meisner, a spokeswoman for Child Protective Services, said the women and children taken from the compound are co-operating with authorities.
They boarded buses on Sunday for the San Angelo Museum. Many were wearing long pastel dresses and carrying bedding and infants.
Difficult to determine names, ages of children
Meisner said the investigation is difficult because many members of the community are related to each other and have similar names and change their names frequently. Meisner said ages are also hard to determine.
No arrests had been made by Sunday.
Prosecutor Allison Palmer said authorities know where the 50-year-old under investigation is and have talked to him, although she wouldn't give more details.
The man, Dale Barlow, is on probabtion after serving time last year for sexual conduct with a minor. He was ordered to register as a sex offender during his three years probation.
Police who are investigating the Eldorado compound have a search warrant that allows them to look for marriage records or other evidence linking Barlow to the teen and her baby. The warrant authorizes the seizure of computer drives, CDs, DVDs or photos.
Sect broke from Mormon Church
As police search the compound, they are blocking access to the property and surrounding area. The compound sits behind a large hill in Eldorado, with the entire property shielded from the town's view, except for the top of a 25-metre-tall white temple.
The community is part of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a sect run by Jeffs that broke away from the Mormon Church after the latter disavowed polygamy more than a century ago.
The sect includes about 1,000 followers in the religious community of Bountiful, B.C.
Jeffs is in jail in Arizona, where he is awaiting a second trial for charges of incest and sexual conduct with a minor.
In November, he was sentenced to two consecutive five-year prison terms for being an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old girl who wed her cousin in an arranged marriage in Utah in 2001.
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