11/18/08 – Teens testify in custody hearing – Witnesses speak of beatings, days of forced fasting at Alamo compound

Texarkana Gazette
November 18, 2008
By: Lynn LaRowe

Teens testify in custody hearing
Witnesses speak of beatings, days of forced fasting at Alamo compound

A 14-year-old former Tony Alamo follower told a judge Monday she was showering about two years ago when Alamo placed a hand over her mouth and began to touch her.

“He said don’t tell anybody what happened here or I’ll have John (Kolbeck) beat you and I’ll take care of you,” the girl said softly. “Nobody would’ve believed me, anyway. Everybody thinks he’s a prophet here.”

When she asked to leave the Fouke, Ark., Alamo Christian Ministries compound in April to live with her mother and aunt out of state, the girl, then 13, was given $40 and a bus ticket, she said.

The girl’s testimony and that of an 18-year-old man who left the ministries in May marked the beginning of custody hearings for six girls, ages 10 to 17, removed from the Fouke compound in September.

The girl testifying Monday had two sisters removed from the compound in September. The man testifying had one sister removed from the compound.

The compound was searched by the FBI and Arkansas State Police for evidence child pornography had been produced there, according to court documents.

Circuit Judge Jim Hudson began hearings Monday concerning two of the girls. Custody hearings for two pairs of sisters will begin today before Circuit Judge Joe Griffin.

Hudson’s hearings will not resume until Thursday.

The judges must decide if the girls will remain in foster care, be returned to the parents, some of whom continue to follow Alamo’s teachings, or be placed with other relatives without connections to the controversial church.

The girl who testified Monday lived in Fort Smith on Alamo property until she was 11.

After a visit to the Fouke “outpost,” she was moved into the main house where Alamo primarily resides, she testified.

In April, she contacted relatives in another state and asked Alamo for a bus ticket.

“I would see him lie. He would get donations for ‘Arms Full of Help’ and then they’d sell the stuff,” the girl said. “I didn’t think he was a prophet.”

The girl testified she worked in the Fouke office for six or more hours a day. Months-long gaps in her education were deemed necessary because she was needed to work, the girl said.

The girl said she was “kicked out” and made to live next door in the “green house” about two months after moving into Alamo’s house in Fouke.

“He calls it the house of scorn,” the girl said. “He puts us there when we do something wrong.”

Fasting was another means of discipline Alamo would order, the girl said.

“We couldn’t have anything except some water or black coffee,” she said.

Being deprived of food for three to seven days was a common occurrence, the girl alleged.

The girls who lived in the main house, called the “schooling mission,” were either working so late into the night they resided there out of convenience or were among Alamo’s wives, said the young witness.

“They all wear wedding rings. They go into his room at night and close the door. They’re the only ones that do that,” the girl said.

She listed eight names, including legally married Sharon Alamo, as being the “sisters in the house.”

A Feb. 28 CD that contains denials of sexual and physical abuse by the witness, her sisters and other girls was coached, the girl said Monday.

“Tony told us what he was going to ask us and what we were supposed to say,” the girl testified.

The girl also described being beaten by John Kolbeck, Alamo’s alleged enforcer, as she was bent over a chair while being held down by his wife.

A warrant for Kolbeck’s arrest has been issued by officials in Fort Smith.

The girl’s father is still affiliated with Alamo Ministries.

Both the girl and the man who were questioned Monday described a 3-foot-long paddle, 6 inches wide and an inch thick, used to deliver stinging blows.

The 18-year-old man testified about being beaten several times during his life by Kolbeck and watching the beating of his sister.

“She was holding onto her ankles so she wouldn’t fall over,” he said.

Both witnesses claimed Alamo often ordered the beatings, though they were sometimes initiated at the request of a child’s own parent when a youngster needed “correcting.”

The man told Hudson his parents were well aware of the beatings he endured. His parents are still affiliated with Alamo Ministries.

“Corrections” were often the end result of “reports” made by other followers regarding unwanted behavior, both witnesses testified.

Under questioning from Marshall Moore, the Texarkana lawyer representing the parents who remain loyal to Alamo, both witnesses described their parents in a favorable light and said they believed their parents love them.

Moore told the court his clients should not be judged by what their pastor might have done.

“Tony Alamo is not even in this case, but DHS wants him in here because it’s sensational,” Moore said. “I know these people sitting right here aren’t good parents—they’re great parents. This case is not about Tony Alamo, it’s about the children.”

But the DHS lawyer, Mary Helen Mitchell, ad litem attorneys Carla Reyes and Amy Freedman, who were appointed to represent the two girls, and Pam Fisk, an attorney representing the mother of one girl who no longer belongs to Alamo’s church, painted a much different picture.

“To say that Tony Alamo is not relevant to this case is a farce,” Reyes said.

“The parents totally abdicated their parental responsibilities to Tony Alamo,” Mitchell argued. “With the parents’ knowledge and consent, Mr. Alamo controlled their education, their discipline and even where their children lived.”

Freedman called for the removal of more children from Alamo’s compounds, which operate in Fouke, Fort Smith, New Jersey and California.

“I have listened to 30 hours in vivid detail of beatings, starvation and multiple child bride weddings,” Freedman said. “I want the court to find my client has been neglected and remove all children from the Tony Alamo compound.”

In: 2008 - (Trial year)

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