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A woman who was finally able to leave an FLDS-controlled polygamous community escaped thanks to beefed up law enforcement in the area, according to the Arizona Attorney General's Office, which pleaded Tuesday for more funding.
In a news conference, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne announced that Ruby Jessop had managed to leave Colorado City earlier this month. According to a news release, Jessop was held against her will for more than 10 years after being forced to marry her second-cousin, Haven Barlow, in 2001. Ruby, now 26, has been granted temporary custody of her six children, according to the release.
He said a criminal probe of the FLDS and the Marshal's Office, which serves as a small police force in the twin polygamous towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, is currently under way. He declined to provide details.
"What they do is say, 'Everybody watch her so she won't run away.' Then she can't leave," Horne said of women like Ruby. "Women who wanted to escape have been forcibly held by the marshals against their will."
Attorneys for the two towns and the Marshal's Office adamantly denied the charges, calling Horne's words "inflammatory."
"I can't speak for the FLDS but the bottom line is the Marshal's Office absolutely does not hold people against their will," said lawyer Blake Hamilton. "The Arizona attorney general, as the highest ranking law enforcement official in Arizona, ought not be making those statements unless he has evidence of it."
The release characterizes Jessop's departure as an "escape" made possible by $420,000 that Horne set aside in 2012. The money was used to increase sheriff's patrols in Mohave County, where Colorado City is located. The release claims that sheriff's deputies were "instrumental" in helping Jessop and her children leave, although it does not provide additional details about the process. It also does not explain how she gained custody of her children.
Horne said in the release that the additional funds he allocated will run out in six months. He urged Arizona residents to contact legislators and ask them to support bills that would "authorize Mohave County Sheriffs Deputies to do the policing in Colorado City rather than the local marshals who are under the control of the dominant church."
On Tuesday, Jessop's sister Flora Jessop said recent weeks have been the happiest time of her life. In 2001, Flora watched as then 14-year-old Ruby was forced into a polygamous marriage. Days later, Ruby called and said she was being abused and begged for help, Flora said Tuesday in a telephone interview from Phoenix, where she lives. "I was on the way to pick her up when she disappeared," Flora said.
Ruby Jessop landed on the Arizona attorney general's radar shortly thereafter, according to the release. At that time, Flora told authorities Ruby was being held against her will in various homes along the Utah-Arizona border. After Ruby disappeared, the sisters lost contact.
Flora said she spent the next decade searching for her sister, becoming an anti-polygamy activist along the way. When Ruby left Colorado City, Flora's quest finally paid off.
Flora said Ruby left Colorado City about a month ago. After she left, her children were "held hostage by the FLDS," Flora added, until Ruby won temporary custody of them last week. The children range in age from two to 10 years.
Flora said Jessop is doing well but has been advised by an attorney not to speak to reporters. Her attorney could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon. Flora added that living conditions in Colorado City have recently deteriorated.
Tonia Tewell, executive director of Holding out HELP, agreed with that assessment. Tewell whose organization provides humanitarian aid to polygamists was not familiar with Ruby's case but said the Colorado City area is currently filled with people who have been excommunicated from the FLDS' United Order, those who are trying to get back into the church's good graces, and members in good standing. The faithful are often forbidden from talking to those who have fallen out of favor, and people with different standings in the church often have conflicts. Tewell said her organization also has been receiving reports of significant abuse.
"A woman came to us who was being drugged and locked in a room," she said.
Tewell said women in the FLDS community are particularly vulnerable because they can lack education or basic skills needed to survive in the outside world. Many people also fear losing their families as well as their jobs, status and even possessions if they fall out of favor with the FLDS church.
"It's definitely getting worse as far as I'm concerned," Tewell said. "It's crazy right now."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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