DNA tests begin for kids in compound

April 21, 2008 7:25:32 PM PDT
Using cotton swabs and sealed envelopes, lab technicians began taking DNA samples Monday from hundreds of children and mothers -- all in long, pioneer-style dresses -- in hopes of sorting out the tangled family relationships within the West Texas polygamist sect. IMAGES: See photos from this story

A judge ordered last week that the genetic material be taken to help determine which children belong to which parents.

Authorities need to figure that out before they begin custody hearings to determine which children may have been abused and need to be permanently removed from the sect compound in Eldorado, and which ones can be safely returned to the fold.

State social workers have complained that over the past few weeks, sect members have offered different names and ages. Also, the children refer to all of their fathers' wives as "mothers," and all men in the community as "uncles."

The testing went on behind closed doors at the crowded coliseum where the children seized in the raid earlier this month on the compound owned by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

The collecting of DNA is likely to take 10 technicians most of the week, and it will be a month or more before the results are available, said Janiece Rolfe, a spokeswoman for the Texas attorney general's office.

Rod Parker, an FLDS attorney, acknowledged that family names within the sect can be confusing, but said: "No one is trying to deceive anyone. ... It's not sinister." Instead, hearily. But how many will do that is unclear.

Parker said he is afraid authorities secretly intend to use the DNA to build criminal cases. But state Child Protective services spokesman Greg Cunningham said: "We're not involved in the criminal investigation. That's not our objective."

Authorities believe the sect forces underage girls into marriages with older men. No one has been arrested, but a warrant has been issued for member Dale Barlow, a convicted sex offender who has said he has not been to the Texas site in years.

Attorneys for the children and the adults have complained that they've not had enough access to their clients at the coliseum. Texas District Judge Barbara Walther on Monday ordered that the women and children in the coliseum be allowed to use newly-installed phone lines to contact attorneys involved in the convoluted custody case.

The judge also asked the attorneys to look for a Mormon volunteer to help watch over twice-daily prayers after attorneys for the women who remain with young children at the coliseum complained they weren't given enough freedom to hold their usual prayer service. CPS has said it has no intention of infringing on their religious rights but wants to be sure the women aren't conspiring to tamper with witnesses in the custody case.

"The way our clients pray is sacred to them, but it becomes less sacred when they feel people from the department are monitoring them," said Andrea Sloan, a lawyer for some of the women.

Some people have contacted CPS about donating clothes or toys for the children. If you wish to donate items, contact Bernadette Cashin at 713-940-5252.

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