The compound where a New Mexico sheriff found 11 starving children living in horrendous conditions may have had a second, sinister purpose.
As Fox 5 News reports, authorities in Taos County, New Mexico raided the makeshift compound last week after Georgia police forwarded a message that someone at the compound had managed to get out: “We are starving and need food and water.”
Surrounded by filth, living in a small trailer, and walled in by tires and an earthen berm, authorities found 11 children, three women, and two men.
In a press release, Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe noted that there was no plumbing, water, or electricity. He added that the people at the compound “looked like third world country refugees not only with no food or fresh water, but with no shoes, personal hygiene and basically dirty rags for clothing.”
Authorities were hoping to find 4-year-old Abdul Wahhaj, who they believed had been taken from his home in Georgia last year by father Siraj Ibn Whahhaj. Abdul has special needs, including cognitive and developmental delays, that require medication to prevent a medical emergency.
According to KOAT News, Abdul's mother did not know whether her son was travelling with his medication. She was concerned that Siraj believed their son to be possessed by a devil and wanted to perform an exorcism on him.
When authorities raided the compound, they found Siraj heavily armed, but saw no sign of Abdul. They did, however, find the remains of a child. While investigators are still working to identify the body, at least two of the children told authorities that Abdul had died at the compound and had been buried there by Lucas Morton, a relative of Siraj and the other man arrested during the raid.
There may not have been much food in the compound, but there were plenty of guns and ammunition. According to WSVN News, prosecutors have indicated in court documents that Siraj was training the children to become school shooters.
Though the school shooting allegation was not raised during the recent hearings on the child abuse charges faced by Siraj, Morton, and the three women, it is thought to have come from one of the women at the compound.
Tyler Anderson, who lived near the compound and helped the group install solar panels when they first arrived, told Fox 5:
“We just figured they were doing what we were doing, getting a piece of land and getting off the grid.”
He said that at first, the younger children would play with other kids who lived nearby, but eventually he stopped seeing them. He also would hear gunfire from the compound's shooting range, but that stopped over time as well.
The compound was built on property belonging to Jason Badger, who tried to get the group evicted, but had his efforts dismissed by a judge. Visiting the property after the raid, Badger told Fox 5, “I was flabbergasted from what it had turned into from the last time I saw it.”
Though the compound was being watched by both local police and the FBI, Hogrefe said that they lacked the probable cause necessary to search the property until they received the plea for help.
Morton and the three women at the compound pleaded not guilty to the child abuse charges, while Siraj did not enter a plea. Prosecutors asked that Siraj be held without bail, and all five are now awaiting a bond hearing.