History of injuries found in polygamist sect kids

AUSTIN, Texas &

Investigators have discovered a history of physical injuries, including broken bones, in children taken from a polygamist sect's ranch compound, the chief of state protective services told legislators today.

The state has been criticized for taking all 463 children from the ranch, including infants and boys, on the theory that the girls may be abused when they are teens.

Today's comments by Commissioner Carey Cockerell, who oversees the Department of Family and Protective Services, were the first to suggest children other than teen girls had been physically abused.

He said medical examinations have revealed numerous injuries, including broken bones, in "very young children."

Cockerell gave no other details on the children's injuries, but said 41 children were involved. CPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins declined to elaborate on the commissioner's comments. The department's child protective services division is caring for the children.

State authorities raided the ranch owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on April 3, seeking evidence of underage girls being forced into polygamous marriages

FLDS spokesman Rod Parker called Cockerell's testimony "a deliberate effort to mislead the public."

Parker said any broken bones would have been treated in medical facilities away from the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado and that doctors are required to report suspected abuse.

Parker said state officials were "trying to politically inoculate themselves from the consequences of this horrible tragedy."

Cockerell told a legislative committee the investigation has been difficult because members of the church have refused to cooperate.

Mothers who stayed with their children for two weeks after the launched a coordinated effort to stymie investigators, coaching their children to not answer questions, Cockerell said.

He said the women and children would gather into apparent family units, with the children referring to several women as their mother, then the "women switched children in these family units ... making it difficult."

"When asked, women and children would change their names and ages," he said.

On Monday, CPS announced that almost 60 percent of the underage girls living on the Eldorado ranch are pregnant or already have children. Another child was born to a teen mother on Tuesday.

Under Texas law, children under the age of 17 generally cannot consent to sex with an adult. A girl can get married with parental permission at 16, but none of the sect's girls is believed to have had a legal marriage under state law.

Church officials have denied that any children were abused at the ranch and say the state's actions are a form of religious persecution. They also dispute the count of teen mothers, saying at least some are likely adults.

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