Emotional scene in San Angelo

April 25, 2008 9:14:28 AM PDT
It was a chaotic scene. Frantic mothers and crying children were separated, as more children were moved to shelters around the state. This, just hours after a Texas appeals court decided to hear the controversial custody case. PHOTOS: See images from this story
COURT DOCUMENT: Petition that led to the an appeals ct. hearing

It was a heartbreaking scene Thursday; children taken from their mothers' arms, but Child Protective Services says it had to happen.

This morning in San Angelo, buses with dozens of FLDS children went one way, headed to foster homes across the state. Their mothers were told by CPS they could not go with the kids unless the child was under a year old.

One mother told reporters she felt she was being kidnapped. Another held a sign out the bus window, reading "SOS, mothers separated."

"It was in the best interest of the children," said Darrell Azar with CPS.

CPS says it gave mothers 45 minutes to say goodbye, possibly forever. The mothers had no choice and no time to talk with their lawyers.

"We've never treated people in this manner this way before," said Stephanie Goodman, a lawyer for an FLDS mother.

In a move that could reverse the moves today, lawyers representing some FLDS kids convinced an appeals court to hear the case on Tuesday, claiming CPS is illegally separating mothers from children.

Custody cases like this happen all the time. There were more than a dozen cases in Houston Thursday afternoon alone. Every child in CPS custody has his or her time in front of the judge, and that's what these lawyers for kids in west Texas are asking for, simply that the judge allow each child to have his or her own hearing.

"I want my daughter back," said parent Jennifer Garcia, a Houston mother trying to get her daughter back.

Garcia sees their point.

"Every kid is a different situation, a different circumstance," she said. "My situation is different than theirs. I deserve my own day. They deserve their own day."

But the FLDS kids never got that. Instead, the San Angelo judge held one hearing last week for all 400 plus kids in state custody, saying the evidence of abuse against one could be used as evidence of abuse against the others. That's what the appeals court is being asked to reverse.

"You can't have this broad brush that you're going to paint and say, OK that must be the case for all the children," said family lawyer Shonda Jones. "It's just not."

CPS says the abuse was widespread and no child was safe. There are still 260 kids in that shelter in San Angelo. They will be moved when foster placements can be found.

On Thursday, we learned 16 children are going to the group home Boys and Girls Country in Hockley near Tomball. They range in age from one month to eight years old. Another 31 children are going to Kidz Harbor in Liverpool in Brazoria County. Their ages range from three months to 13 years old.

Below is what the mothers were told this morning:

    "Last Friday the judge gave CPS temporary managing conservatorship of your children. This means that CPS, as a state agency is your child's temporary legal guardian. While you still have certain rights and responsibilities, CPS determines where your children live and other major decisions. The judge reviews and approves these decisions.

    Since CPS has been granted legal custody of the children from Eldorado we need to make decisions based on what is in the best interest of your child. CPS has determined that it is in the children's best interest for them to be moved to facilities that can appropriately care for their needs. You will not be able to move with them unless you are the mother of an infant who is less than 1 year old. For those mothers you will be allowed to remain with only the infant.

    I have the list of women who must come with me now. We will ensure your personal belongings get to you but if you have a purse and medications please get them and follow me to the north lobby.

    Child care workers are on the premises now and will immediately begin taking care of your children. You will be escorted to a bus that will take you back to the ranch or a bus that will take you to a family violence shelter for your safety. We will not answer questions at this time. As you leave you will be given a packet of information explaining what will happen while your child is in our care.".

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