New Mexico Officials: Remote Compound Searched, 11 Children Removed

August 5, 2018 Updated: August 5, 2018

Law enforcement officers searching a rural northern New Mexico compound for a missing 3-year-old boy didn’t locate him but found 11 other children in filthy conditions and with hardly any food, a sheriff said Saturday.

The children, ranging in age from 1 to 15 were removed from the compound in the small community of Amalia, New Mexico, and turned over to state child-welfare workers, Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said.

Two males from Georgia are in custody after sheriff’s officials executed a search warrant at the makeshift residence, according to the sheriff’s office in a news release on Aug. 4.

The children were turned over to the New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department, officials said, adding it was done for their “health and safety,” the sheriff’s office said. “Three women believed to be the children’s mothers were also detained yesterday while investigators continue to sort out details of the case,” the office added.

Hogrefe said officials were initially searching for Lucas Morten and others, including 39-year-old Siraj Wahhaj, who was wanted for child abduction, and 3-year-old AG Wahhaj, a child that was abducted.

But then he said a message was forwarded to his office from a Georgia detective that officials believed came from the compound. “We are starving and need food and water,” the message said, Hogrefe was quoted as saying in the sheriff’s department news release.

“I began working on a search warrant right after I got that intercepted message … it had to be a search warrant and a tactical approach for our own safety because we had learned the occupants were most likely heavily armed and considered extremist of the Muslim belief. We also knew from the layout of the compound they would have an advantage if we didn’t deploy tactfully and quickly,” he elaborated.

There were no injuries during the search, the sheriff said. But Wahhaj and Morten initially refused to follow commands. Wahhaj was armed with a rifle and four handguns, Hogrefe said.

There was little food in the compound, which consisted of a small travel trailer buried in the ground and covered by plastic with no water, plumbing, or electricity, he said.

“The only food we saw were a few potatoes and a box of rice in the filthy trailer,” the sheriff said.

The adults and children appeared like “refugees not only with no food or fresh water, but with no shoes, personal hygiene and basically dirty rags for clothing,” the sheriff said. “We all gave the kids our water and what snacks we had – it was the saddest living conditions and poverty I have seen.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.