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SAN ANGELO, Texas - In the largest child welfare action undertaken here, or perhaps anywhere in the nation, officials said they now have temporary legal custody of 401 children taken from a polygamous sect's ranch in Eldorado.
And 133 women are with the children at Fort Concho, a historic military base 45 miles from the sect's compound in West Texas.
An affidavit explaining why the state moved to take custody was filed for each child late Monday, but 51st District Judge Barbara Walther had not yet decided whether they could be released under Texas law.
The judge did release copies of a new search warrant she signed at 10 p.m. on Sunday. It authorized searches of all buildings, temples, temple annexes, places of worship, vaults, safes, lockboxes, locked drawers, medical facilities, structures, places and vehicles at the ranch.
Without naming a specific person, Walther also gave officers permission to seize various records and items related to girls under the age of 17 who have been married to older men.
The list includes prenatal and birth records; marriage records; wedding photos; electronic storage devices of all types that might include images of girls with their purported husbands; family Bibles or books listing similar information; medical records; bed linens, undergarments, hair fibers, bodily fluids, blood and clothing; video cameras; and cell phones.
Texas officials said at a news conference Monday afternoon they are almost finished searching the ranch, owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Also on Monday, the court released motions filed by two FLDS members objecting to the investigation that has splintered the secluded community.
Marleigh Meisner, spokeswoman for the Texas Division of Child Protective Services, did not say whether the state plans to ask for the children to be removed from their mothers.
"It's absolutely too soon to make that decision," she said. Each child will be appointed an attorney and child advocate to represent his or her interests in court.
Judge Walther has set a custody hearing for April 17 at 10 a.m. to hear why the state believes the children need protection.
Meisner said she still could not confirm whether workers have found or spoken to the 16-year-old girl who called for help on March 29, alleging she had been physically abused and triggering the investigation at the 1,691-acre ranch five days ago.
The number of people at the ranch has surprised officials - and even exceeds the number listed on motions filed by two FLDS men objecting to the raid.
There may have been more people at the ranch on the weekend because the FLDS held a religious conference around April 6, a significant date because fundamentalist Mormons believe Jesus Christ was born and died on this day. It is also the date Joseph Smith founded The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The mainstream LDS Church disavowed polygamy in 1890 and in 1904 and renounces the fundamentalist groups.
An unknown number of men are at the ranch and are being kept there, according to Tela Mange, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Mange also said there was one arrest Monday involving a man charged with a class B misdemeanor for interfering with the duties of a public servant.
At Fort Concho, about 200 child caseworkers from across the state are assisting with interviews - challenging what already is an overburdened system.
Meisner acknowledged there is a critical shortage of foster families in Texas and that Fort Concho is at full capacity, which may require the state to set up shelters elsewhere to take any additional children found.
Debra Brown, executive director of the Children's Advocacy Center in Tom Green County, said that in a year her agency typically works with 271 children from a 10-county area. The advocacy center, which employs 10 full-time staff and 40 volunteers, provides court advocates for children in state custody.
"This is a first for us," she said.
Brown said her staff is reviewing books "related to their religion" so they can better understand the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Brown said that being taken from their homes is traumatic for children, but this action is "in their best interest."
"When children live in a pretty secluded environment it is difficult to get them to open up," she said. "If you give them a little space you are more likely to get them to open up to you."
She described the FLDS children the same way other state employees have: Very quiet, respectful, well-behaved.
* A temple rises: In November 2003, the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints purchased property for its 1,691-acre YFZ Ranch outside Eldorado, Texas. A massive limestone temple was built, along with homes, manufacturing sheds and a dairy.
* The raid begins: Authorities entered the ranch Thursday evening with arrest and search warrants based on a March 31 call from 16-year-old girl who claimed she had been abused by a 50-year-old man.
* Children removed: Officials took hundreds of children off the ranch over the next three days. By Monday afternoon, the tally stood at 401 children, accompanied by 133 women.
* The missing girl: Officials also said Monday they still do not know whether the 16-year-old girl who called for help is among the children they have removed.
* The wanted man: The man named in the arrest warrant, Dale Barlow of Colorado City, Ariz., has told his probation officer he does not know the 16-year-old.
* Texas takes legal custody of 401 children who were removed from the FLDS compound in Eldorado, Texas.
* 133 women also have left the ranch in order to remain with their children.
* A Texas judge releases copies of a second search warrant that allowed officers to take documents from the ranch relating to any girl 17 or younger who appears to have been married or had a child.