SAN ANGELO, Texas - Adult mothers who have been allowed to stay with their young children since they were taken from a polygamous sect will be separated from them after DNA sampling is completed next week, a child welfare official said yesterday.
State District Judge Barbara Walther late Friday ordered that parents and children of the Yearning For Zion Ranch submit DNA samples to help sort out family relationships that have confounded authorities since 416 children were taken into state custody two weeks ago.
Sampling is to begin tomorrow and will probably take several days, said Darrell Azar, a spokesman for Child Protective Services. Results could take more than a month. Once sampling is complete, the agency will begin moving the children from the San Angelo coliseum and fairgrounds to other sites.
Child welfare officials allowed adult mothers with children ages 4 and younger to stay together when the state took custody of the rest of the children from the ranch. Now only mothers younger than 18 will be allowed to remain with their children once the sampling is complete. The agency will also try to keep siblings together, he said.
"We're going to make these transitions as easy as possible," he said. "We want to keep them together as much as possible so they don't feel they're completely isolated from their culture or the people they know."
More than 400 children will be tested, but officials have not said how many adults will be tested. Such a considerable amount of DNA testing is not new but is usually associated with trying to identify victims of mass violence or natural disasters.
Judge Walther on Friday continued an emergency order giving the state custody of the children after a sometimes chaotic two-day hearing in which the state argued that the teachings of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints jeopardized children.
The agency has said the sect encourages adolescent girls to marry older men and have children and that boys are groomed to become perpetrators. Sect members deny the allegations.
Individual hearings will be set for the children over the next several weeks and the judge will determine if they are moved into permanent foster care or can be returned to their parents. All hearings must be held by June 5.
An April 3 raid on the ranch was prompted by a call made to a family violence shelter, purportedly by a 16-year-old girl who said her 50-year-old husband beat and raped her. That girl has not been identified.