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Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News
Texas troops walk the perimeter of Fort Concho in San Angelo, Texas, where women and children from the FLDS Church who were living at the YFZ ranch in Eldorado, Texas, have been taken.

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Texas welfare officials today called the roundup of 401 children from an FLDS ranch the state's largest child welfare operation since the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco 15 years ago.

During a press conference this afternoon, a state welfare spokeswoman said Texas officially had taken temporary custody of 401 children, and that welfare workers were trying to find additional shelter for the children and their mothers.

As of now, they plan to place all 401 children in foster homes.

Meanwhile, law enforcement officials continued to search the 1,700-acre YFZ Ranch for more minors, a day after officers searched the FLDS temple itself for signs of a 16-year-old girl who had reported abuse but has not been located.

"We do believe that there are other children still at the ranch, and if so, they, too, will be removed," said Marleigh Meisner, spokeswoman for Texas Child Protective Services. "This is about children we believe have been abused or neglected."

Welfare officials said they have had a critical shortage of foster homes before this happened, and they will try to place children into foster homes as fast as they can find them.

"This, in my opinion, this is the largest endeavor we've ever been involved with in the state of Texas," Meisner said.

In addition to 401 children removed from the polygamous compound, 133 women also were transported. Meisner said those women came on their own accord and are free to leave if they want to. For the time being, the women are being allowed to stay with the children.

Authorities say everyone at the ranch has been fairly cooperative. FLDS officials did balk this weekend when officers wanted to search their temple, which they consider sacred.

Texas authorities confirmed one man has been arrested and charged with a misdemeanor for interfering with the duties of a public servant.

Meisner said an affidavit will be filed in court for each of the 401 children, and that each child will be assigned a guardian ad litem attorney. A judge will hear each child's case separately.

Before Monday, Texas CPS officials had said 18 children had showed signs of "sufficient evidence of possible abuse and neglect," Meisner said. Now, all 401 children have that designation.

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Members of the FLDS community do not mingle often with general society. Very few outsiders are allowed inside the compound, which is guarded by members of the sect.

FLDS leader Warren Jeffs is serving two five-to-life sentences after a jury in southern Utah last year convicted him of performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. Jeffs is now in Arizona, where he faces additional charges of sexual misconduct and incest involving child-bride marriages.


E-mail: bwest@desnews.com