9/23/08 – Officials try to ID parents of 6 children

Texarkana Gazette
September 23, 2008
By: Lynn LaRowe

Officials try to ID parents of 6
Girls range in age from 10 to 17; guardians asked to come forward

Arkansas Department of Human Services officials are trying to identify and locate the parents of six girls taken into state custody after Saturday’s search at Tony Alamo Christian Ministries in Fouke, Ark.

“Today we are still struggling to identify or match the children to their parents,” said DHS spokesman Julie Munsell. “This is a unique situation. We usually know who the parents are.”

The six girls taken from the compound range in age from 10 to 17.

As recently as Sunday, Alamo has been interviewed by television news outlets, including the Texarkana Gazette.

He has espoused the virtues of polygamy and called the allegations that child pornography was produced on the compound false.

Parental rights need to be considered, Munsell said.

“Many of the parents were not present when the children were removed,” Munsell said. “They do have some parental rights. We’re checking birth certificates and asking guardians to come forward.”

Munsell said the fact that some of the girls’ families might not be native to the area is also making identifying parents a challenge.

“That’s part of piecing things back together,” Munsell said. “We’re trying to establish who they are and do they want to assert their parental rights.”

Within 72 hours of taking the girls into custody, DHS officials must decide whether they will file a petition with a local court asking for custody, Munsell said.

Within five days of filing the petition, a hearing must be conducted before a judge.

At the hearing, officials will describe the probable cause they believe warrants the removal of the children, Munsell said.

Interested parties, such as parents and other family members, investigators, DHS personnel and “ad litem” attorneys appointed to advocate for a child will have a chance to provide information to the court or make recommendations, Munsell said.

“We are starting to get inquiries from family members,” Munsell said. “We are asking for pictures depicting them with their child as well as other things like Social Security numbers to match with birth records.”

The judge assigned to hear the case will then make a decision based on the proceedings as to where and with whom the girls will live, Munsell said.

“The decision to place the children in foster care or release them to their parents will be made by the court,” Munsell said. “If they’re ordered into foster care, then an adjudication hearing will be scheduled.”

At an adjudication hearing, the court will hear recommendations for the placement of the six girls.

“You have to determine if the removal will be short- or long-term, whether family reunification is a possible goal and if you may be seeking the termination of parental rights,” Munsell said. “This could be a long process.”

Munsell said there could be relatives, other than parents, who are hearing of the removal of the girls and coming forward.

Removing a child from a living situation can be traumatic. Munsell said the court will consider placing the girls with family members, such as a grandparent or aunt, who come forward and are acceptable guardians.

Family members of the girls who wish to be considered for possible placement are being asked to contact the local DHS office.

Munsell said DHS isn’t aware of how many children were living on the compound before Saturday’s raid.

“We were asked to come in and assess safety,” Munsell said.

As part of their investigation, DHS is conducting physical and mental health assessments. Crisis and therapeutic counseling is also being offered to the girls, Munsell said.

Interviewing the girls to determine if they have been physically or sexually abused is the job of the Crimes Against Children Division of the Arkansas State Police.

Munsell said she did not know if any of the six girls were married.

No arrests have been made by state or federal authorities.

“This is an ongoing investigation,” said ASP public information officer Bill Sadler.

A joint press release issued Saturday by the ASP and the FBI indicated that the state and federal search warrants they executed were because of allegations children on the compound were being physically and sexually abused.

Federal authorities are investigating possible violations of the Mann Act, a federal statute prohibiting the transportation of children across state lines for criminal purposes.

All of the involved agencies are asking for the public’s help.

DHS is asking family members of the six girls who are willing to help with their identification or who are interested in having a child to whom they are related placed in their custody to call their local office.

ASP officials are asking anyone who thinks they have information that could assist in the criminal investigation to contact their Hope, Ark., office.


Arkansas State Police: 870-777-8944

Please contact the ASP if you have information that could assist in the criminal investigation of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries.

Arkansas Department of Human Services: 870-773-0563

Please contact DHS if you are a family member of a child from the compound or if you have information that could assist in their identifications.

In: 2008 - (Trial year)

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