AMALIA, N.M. (AP/CBS4) — A child’s body was found inside a compound located near the New Mexico-Colorado border. There has been no positive confirmation on whether the child is that of a missing 3-year-old boy from Georgia.
A New Mexico man said Tuesday he and his wife had pressed authorities to remove a group of people from a makeshift compound on his land where officials reported finding 11 hungry children living in filth.
However, it took a plea for help and the search for a missing Georgia boy to finally draw sheriff’s deputies to the desolate site that was walled off by stacks of old tires, wooden pallets and other debris.
Property owner Jason Badger said he had concerns about the compound near the Colorado border. But he says the courts and other authorities shot down his attempts to break up the encampment — described as a trailer buried in the ground in Amalia, just south of the New Mexico-Colorado line.
Court records show a judge dismissed an eviction notice filed by Badger against Lucas Morton in June. The records didn’t provide further details on the judge’s decision.
Morton was among five adults arrested after the Taos County sheriff raided the compound in search of the missing Georgia boy who was not found. Authorities haven’t released many details about the search for him.
The five adults, including the boy’s father, have been charged with child abuse. A hearing was expected later Tuesday.
Children ages 1 to 15 were rescued Friday from the compound that had been under investigation for months.
Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said FBI agents had surveilled the area a few weeks ago but did not find probable cause to search the property. An FBI spokesman didn’t immediately return a call by The Associated Press seeking comment.
Hogrefe said the boy’s father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, was among the five adults arrested,
Authorities staged a raid after someone believed to have been in the compound sent out a message for help that said: “We are starving and need food and water.”
It wasn’t clear who sent the message or how it was communicated. Georgia detectives forwarded the message to the Taos County Sheriff’s Office.
Wahhaj was expected to appear in court Wednesday on a warrant from Georgia that seeks his extradition to face a charge of abducting his son, Abdul-ghani, from that state last December.
According to the extradition warrant, Wahhaj told the boy’s mother that he wanted to perform an exorcism on the child, who suffered from seizures, because he believed the 3-year-old was possessed by the devil. The mother told police that Wahhaj took the boy for a trip to a park and never returned.
Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said Tuesday that the remains were found after a search in Amalia. Authorities are awaiting a positive identification of the remains discovered Monday.
The warrant said the boy suffered from severe medical issues including hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, a defect caused by lack of oxygen and blood flow around the time of birth.
The boy’s mother said the boy can’t walk and requires constant attention.
Wahhaj was armed with several guns, including a loaded AR-15 assault rifle, when he was taken into custody without incident at the compound, the sheriff said.
Morton was taken into custody on suspicion of harboring a fugitive.
Tyler Anderson, who lives near the compound, believes the group had moved to the area to live off the grid, just as he had done.
Anderson said he had helped the newcomers install solar panels after they arrived in December. But he eventually stopped visiting the compound.
Anderson said the children found inside the compound at first played at neighboring properties but stopped in recent months.
He also said he never met the three women living at the site and doesn’t recall seeing the boy who remains missing.
Authorities raided the compound Friday. Five adults who were living there face child abuse charges.
The women, believed to be mothers of some of the children, have been identified as 35-year-old Jany Leveille, 38-year-old Hujrah Wahhaj, and 35-year-old Subhannah Wahhaj.
Jail booking photos show them wearing traditional Muslim veils or hijabs. It wasn’t clear whether they had retained attorneys.
The public defender’s office in Taos County did not immediately return a telephone message from The Associated Press seeking comment.
By MORGAN LEE, Associated Press
AP writers Mary Hudetz in Albuquerque and Kate Brumback in Jonesboro, Georgia, contributed to this report.
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