SALT LAKE CITY – Efforts by a former member of Warren Jeffs’ sect to retrieve her four children from a polygamous community led to a lengthy standoff after dozens of followers surrounded the woman’s van and some allegedly threw chickens at it.
Deputies were in Colorado City, Arizona, for seven hours Friday until they received a search warrant to enter the home of an aunt who refused to give the kids to their mother, said Trish Carter, spokeswoman for the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office.
Nobody was hurt, but officials were preparing to fly in more deputies to the remote location because they were so concerned.
When it was finally over, officials escorted Sabrina Tetzner and her four children across the Utah state line.
Tetzner recently received sole custody of her children – ages now 8, 9, 12 and 13 – and went to get them from an aunt’s home.
But the aunt wouldn’t let Tetzner take the children, and a crowd of about 50 people surrounded Tetzner’s white van, Carter said. Some in the mob of mostly women in long dresses even threw chickens at the vehicle, she said.
No arrests have been made in the standoff, but authorities are considering charges against the aunt, Carter said.
The aunt does not have a listed phone number, and a message left with her attorney in the custody case was not immediately returned.
The sect known as The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS, is a radical offshoot of mainstream Mormonism whose members believe polygamy brings exaltation in heaven. Polygamy is a legacy of the early teachings of the mainstream Mormon church, but the faith abandoned the practice in 1890 and strictly prohibits it today.
About 7,700 people live in the sister towns of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, at the foot of picturesque red rock cliffs. Most are Jeffs’ followers.
An officer with the twin cities’ police force also responded to the standoff but was there only briefly, Carter said.
Tetzner left the sect about eight years ago and didn’t take her children, said Roger Hoole, a Salt Lake City attorney who represented the woman along with co-counsel in Arizona.
Hoole, who has worked with hundreds of people who have left or been kicked out of the sect, said women often leave without their kids to be able to escape easier and because they are indoctrinated to believe children belong to church leadership.
“It’s a process for the fog to lift and for them to realize that, ‘Oh, boy. I’ve been cheated out of my kids,’” the attorney said. “Sometimes it takes years.”
Tetzner is now married and doing well in the outside world, Hoole said.
Earlier this month, a judge in Mohave County, Arizona, awarded her sole custody of her four children, while still allowing the aunt supervised visits at Tetzner’s home in Joseph, Utah.
Tetzner decided to seek full legal custody when it became more difficult to visit the kids in recent years, Hoole said. He added he was surprised by Friday’s events.
“It’s always a challenge to get these kids, but I’ve never seen a situation where the FLDS people just surrounded the house,” Hoole said.