A raid on a New Mexico desert compound has found 11 children wearing rags and living in filth, but failed to find a missing young boy who suffers from seizures and requires constant medical attention.
- Authorities raided a makeshift compound in search of a missing Georgia boy
- Authorities did not find the boy but found 11 other children living in deplorable conditions, and arrested 5 adults on child abuse charges
- The father told the mother before fleeing that he wanted to perform an exorcism on the child
Taos County sheriff’s deputies raided a makeshift compound on Friday in search of a missing boy from Georgia, 2,000 kilometres away.
They did not find the boy but arrested his father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, and four other adults on child abuse charges after finding 11 children at the compound, which authorities said was littered with “odorous trash” and lacking clean water.
The father told the boy’s mother before fleeing Georgia that he wanted to perform an exorcism on the child, who he believed was possessed by the devil, according to documents made public in a court filing on Monday.
Inside the compound, Mr Wahhaj, 39, was found heavily armed with multiple firearms including a loaded AR-15, Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said.
Even though his son Abdul-ghani, who was 3 when he disappeared last December, was not among the children found, Sheriff Hogrefe said authorities have reason to believe the boy was at the compound several weeks ago.
Sheriff Hogrefe’s deputies are searching for the child, along with the FBI and authorities in Georgia’s Clayton County, where officials say the boy was living before his father took him around December 1, 2017.
The boy’s mother told authorities the boy suffers from seizures, cannot walk because of severe medical issues, and requires constant attention.
She told police in December that Mr Wahhaj had taken the boy for a trip to a park and never returned.
Last seen in December in Alabama
Clayton County police said in a missing persons bulletin that Mr Wahhaj and his son were last seen on December 13 in Alabama, on the western border of Georgia, traveling with five other children and two adults.
Georgia authorities said Mr Wahhaj was traveling through Alabama’s Chilton County with seven children and another adult when their car overturned.
Mr Wahhaj told police the group was traveling from Georgia to New Mexico to go camping.
The trooper who wrote the report said he found no camping equipment in or near the vehicle but that Mr Wahhaj was in possession of three handguns, two rifles, a bag of ammunition, and a bulletproof vest.
Mr Wahhaj told the trooper that he owned the guns legally and had a Georgia permit to carry concealed weapons.
“Mr Wahhaj seemed to be very concerned about his weapons and stated several times that they were his property and that he owned them legally,” the report said.
It was not immediately known on Monday whether Mr Wahhaj and the others charged in the child abuse case in New Mexico — another man and three women believed to be the mother of the 11 children — had retained attorneys.
The Taos County sheriff identified the women facing charges as Jany Leveille, 35, Hujrah Wahhaj, 38, and Subhannah Wahhaj, 35. They were arrested in the town of Taos and detained.
‘We are starving and need food and water’
The search at the compound came amid a two-month investigation in collaboration with Clayton County authorities and the FBI, according to Sheriff Hogrefe.
He said FBI agents conducted surveillance of the area a few weeks ago but did not find probable cause to search the property.
That changed when Georgia detectives forwarded a message to Sheriff Hogrefe’s office that initially had been sent to a third party, saying: “We are starving and need food and water.”
Sheriff Hogrefe described the compound as “the saddest living conditions and poverty” he has seen in 30 years on the job.
Other than a few potatoes and a box of rice, there was little food in the compound, which Sheriff Hogrefe said consisted of a small travel trailer buried in the ground and covered by plastic with no water, plumbing and electricity.
Sheriff Hogrefe said the adults and children — ages 1 to 15 — had no shoes, wore dirty rags for clothing and “looked like Third World country refugees”.