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Texas removes 183 at sect site

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Times Staff Writer

Texas child welfare officials said Saturday that they had removed 183 people -- including 137 children -- from an isolated polygamist compound in southwestern Texas after allegations that a 16-year-old girl there had been sexually abused.

Investigators from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services were still inside the YFZ Ranch -- a guarded, self-sufficient compound of large dormitories built around an imposing white temple -- on Saturday evening, two days after they began examining allegations that scores of girls may have been abused.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a 10,000-member sect that broke away from the Mormon Church in the 1930s, began building the compound on the former exotic game preserve four years ago. YFZ stands for “Yearning for Zion.”

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The compound is near Eldorado, a ranching town of about 1,800 about 2 1/2 hours west of San Antonio.

Meanwhile, authorities continued searching for the 16-year-old girl who sparked the initial complaint, as well as the man alleged to have sexually abused her, Dale Barlow, 50. The Associated Press reported that according to the warrant for Barlow’s arrest, authorities suspected that he was married to the girl by the church and that she had given birth to his child eight months ago, when she was 15.

State officials said most of the women and children had been removed so they could be questioned in a less intimidating atmosphere, not because of fears they were in danger. The number of girls in state custody remained at 18 Saturday, the same as a day earlier.

State officials did not rule out taking more children into custody and placing them into foster care.

“They are in our care, but not custody, while we are interviewing them,” said Family and Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins, adding that the 137 children were at a civic center in Eldorado. “We just feel that is more conducive to getting good answers.”

The sect’s self-styled prophet, Warren Jeffs, 52, was convicted in Utah last year of being an accomplice to rape for forcing a 14-year-old to marry and have sex with her 19-year-old cousin in 2001.

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He is awaiting trial on additional charges in Arizona.

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miguel.bustillo@latimes.com

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