11/21/08 – Parents plead for return of children taken by court

Texarkana Gazette
November 21, 2008
By: Lynn LaRowe

Parents plead for return of children taken by court

Tony Alamo Christian Ministries members who are parents of some of the 20 children taken into state custody Tuesday said Wednesday they are trying not to let their grief and anger overwhelm them.

“I feel horrible. I have cried. But I’ve got to keep it together,” said the mother of a 13-year-old boy removed by authorities from a sport-utility vehicle stopped as it headed from Fouke, Ark., toward Texas.

The father of four of the seized children said the two Ford Excursions carrying 17 children ages 14 months to 17 years were headed “to the park.”

Also, three boys were taken into custody Tuesday morning at hearings concerning six girls removed from the ministry compound Sept. 20.

After seeing a few unmarked vehicles and sensing a media presence, a decision was made to take the kids away from the Alamo Ministries property, one of the parents said.

Arkansas Department of Human Services previously said it was prompted to act because signs had been noticed that the children were going to be moved.

“When they came before, (state officials) had masks and guns and stuff,” said the father of four who has been a church member since he was 4.

“We didn’t want our kids to see that.”

The living room and kitchen where the parents gathered late Wednesday evening resembled one from any middle-class American home, with a few differences.

The pots in the kitchen were

large. Two refrigerators and a freezer lined a wall. Parents wept as a laptop computer played a home video of the children being taken by the Arkansas State Police.

The cries of children and the anxious voices of their parents accompanied the images recorded as DHS workers executed a court order with the help of the ASP.

“No, no. I want my babies. I love my babies,” one mother pleaded as state troopers surrounded the cars.

The order signed late Monday by Miller County Circuit Judge Joe Griffin listed 126 names, including “other juveniles” and “unknown juveniles,” and permitted the search of 20 properties in Miller County.

Previously, officials with DHS said the kids not found Tuesday might have been taken out of state. A court order executed on Alamo properties in Fort Smith, Ark., signed by Sebastian County Circuit Judge Mark Hewett proved fruitless. No children were found on more than a dozen sites there.

“Most of those kids have never lived in Fouke,” said the father of four of the names listed on the Miller County order.

The names of some parents included on the list were vaguely familiar as followers residing in California, he said.

The parents, who uniformly deny the allegations of abuse and neglect that led to the family separations, believe the public hasn’t heard their side.

“We’re just human beings,” said the father of six who held the video camera as his children were taken Tuesday. “That we’ll just blindly follow and do every dastardly deed he tells us to do—that’s just not true.”

The parents said the assumption that their church is a cult with brainwashed members is false.

“Everyone in this church does have different beliefs,” the father of six said. “We’re not just one monolithic mind.”

None of the parents interviewed said they believe any of the allegations of sexual or physical abuse by Alamo are true.

“Pastor Alamo is absolutely innocent. All the allegations brought against him are false,” said one parent. “Our pastor’s spent 44 years in the ministry. He’s not going to throw all that away to get in the shower with a half-wit.”

The parents openly addressed allegations the public has heard.

“I’ve been in this ministry since I was 4 years old and I’ve never seen anything like that,” said the father of four in reference to alleged Alamo-directed beatings of children and adults. He said the only physical discipline he received was “just a parent spanking a child.” He denied any knowledge of followers being struck with wooden paddles.

The man said he was 23 when he married the mother of his four children. She was 16.

“We fell in love. What’s wrong with that?” the man said. “We have four children they just took away from us, but we’re strong. We’re strong together.”

The parents said marrying at ages younger than 18 is better than what the law prescribes.

“The government’s not against young girls fornicating. They give out condoms in grade school,” said the father of six.

Legalized abortion for girls and women amounts to “first-degree murder,” he added.

“No marriage until the age of 18 so they can become whores and murderers?” he asked rhetorically.

The father of four and his wife admit they don’t get paid for work they perform for Alamo Ministries.

“I’m a volunteer. My wife’s a volunteer. Why should we get paid,” he said. “The church says that if you give your skills, we’ll take care of your family.”

Tony Alamo doesn’t approve written requests for items such as toothpaste and toilet paper as some former followers have testified in criminal hearings for Alamo and custody hearings for six girls taken by the state Sept. 20, the parents said.

“We have a big closet with that kind of stuff in it,” said the 13-year-old’s mother. “You just go in there and get what you need. Pastor Alamo doesn’t have time for that. It doesn’t make sense.”

The church members said Alamo doesn’t practice polygamy even though he preaches about it.

“I believe Pastor Alamo,” said the father of six. “That’s what he’s told me.”

The parents also rebuffed allegations of forced fasts for disobedient children.

“My kids have never missed a meal,” one said.

Some of the ministry’s residences in Fouke are outfitted with kitchens, though most followers dine as many as four times daily in the church’s cafeteria.

The parents said they carefully monitor what their children are exposed to in terms of television, movies and books.

“We don’t let them watch ‘Sex (and) the City’ or ‘Desperate Housewives,’” said one, referring to popular TV shows. “They don’t watch stuff about homosexuality or promiscuity.”

Other rules that must be followed if living on Alamo property include no profanity, no weapons of any kind including toy ones, no pornography and no drinking or illegal drug use, the parents said.

They said their church is being targeted because of Alamo’s “bold” messages.

“The government is riddled with corruption and Tony Alamo is exposing corruption. The government is retaliating,” said the father of six. “If these allegations are false, it doesn’t say much for our government.”

The parents don’t think the evidence will show they are unfit.

“If it happens to us today, it can happen to you tomorrow,” they said.

One of the mothers said she would move from Alamo property if it was the only way she could keep her children. Another mother said she believes the Constitution would have to be done away with before the state could force her to choose between her church and her children.

“It reminds me of God giving his son Jesus for us,” said a father.

Another follower described the state’s civil and criminal actions as “just the same old persecution.”

“If you read the Bible, you’ll see the same thing happening over and over again to every prophet,” the woman said.

The parents said anyone can attend their services and join the congregation for a meal in the dining hall.

“Our doors are open for everything to everyone,” a parent said. “The church is open.”

click here to watch video of children being taken into state custody

In: 2008 - (Trial year)

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