Hoax clouds abuse probe

Idaho State Journal Editorial


That telephone call purportedly from a 16-year-old girl reporting abuse at a polygamist retreat in Texas turned out to be a hoax, authorities now believe. So why has Texas Judge Barbara Walther decided to keep 416 children rounded up from the Yearning for Zion ranch in state custody?

That’s what a Utah man wants to know. Connor Boyack of Lehi is circulating an online petition calling for the release of the children and women who were taken from the polygamous compound at San Angelo, Texas. 

The way Boyack sees it, the women and kids were legally kidnapped. “If there’s any cases of abuse, specific cases, those should be investigated and handled,” he says. “But this was all based on one anonymous phone call.”

The telephone number of the alleged 16-year-old victim was traced to a woman in Colorado Springs, Colo., who has an extensive record of posing as a troubled teen and making false claims. None panned out.

And no one inside the Texas compound could be identified as the caller.

That does not mean there has been no abuse of young girls. The question is hard to answer, however. Authorities found evidence that children as young as 13 may have been pregnant, and so-called marriages were publicly consummated after a ceremony. Judge Walther ordered the kids to remain in custody and said parents and children must undergo DNA testing seeking to identify parental relationships.

She also ordered confiscation of the cell phones of the women staying with the kids, preventing them any contact with family or legal representation. In the latest development, a Texas appeals court has agreed to hear arguments from mothers who want to remain in contact with their children while they are in state custody. Imagine that — mothers wanting to be with their kids.

In fairness to the judge, the hearings involving the children and their mothers were a judicial zoo, with a stable of lawyers shouting objections and motions.

If the DNA findings eventually are able to confirm cases of child abuse, then the investigation will have been justified. But at this point, what started out as an apparent hoax perpetrated by a disturbed woman has triggered a troubling sequence of events.

It is no wonder that Boyack has found fertile ground for his petition, even though sending a copy of the thousands of signatures he collected to elected officials is unlikely to create more than some public sympathy.