Raid on Polygamy – First Place Photo Essay – SPJ

This edit of my work on the Texas raid on the YFZ Ranch that won 1st place from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Utah Headliners. I could only submit twelve photographs in which to tell the story.

Eldorado, Texas - In April 2008, Child Protective Services (CPS) raided a polygamous sect's Texas ranch and removed 416 children after receiving phone calls, now believed to be a hoax, from someone claiming to be an abused sixteen-year-old girl. This raid on the FLDS Church's YFZ (Yearning for Zion) Ranch became the largest child custody case in United States history. Here, on the first night of removals, young FLDS women and children are taken into shelter at the First Baptist Church in Eldorado, Texas.

Eldorado, Texas - In April 2008, Child Protective Services (CPS) raided a polygamous sect's Texas ranch and removed 416 children after receiving phone calls, now believed to be a hoax, from someone claiming to be an abused sixteen-year-old girl. This raid on the FLDS Church's YFZ (Yearning for Zion) Ranch became the largest child custody case in United States history. Here, on the first night of removals, young FLDS women and children are taken into shelter at the First Baptist Church in Eldorado, Texas.

Eldorado, Texas - As law enforcement officials fearing a Waco-type incident prepare to breach the polygamous sect's temple at the YFZ Ranch, Texas State Troopers speed through a roadblock, en route to reinforce the assault which would meet with only minimal non-violent resistance.

Eldorado, Texas - As law enforcement officials fearing a Waco-type incident prepare to breach the polygamous sect's temple at the YFZ Ranch, Texas State Troopers speed through a roadblock, en route to reinforce the assault which would meet with only minimal non-violent resistance.

Eldorado, Texas - After removing nearly 500 women and children from the polygamous sect's YFZ Ranch, local law enforcement officials and the FBI breached the bolted doors to the polygamous sect's temple, producing thousands of boxes of evidence to be sifted through in a search for proof of sexual abuse and underage marriage.

Eldorado, Texas - After removing nearly 500 women and children from the polygamous sect's YFZ Ranch, local law enforcement officials and the FBI breached the bolted doors to the polygamous sect's temple, producing hundreds of boxes of evidence to be sifted through in a search for proof of sexual abuse and underage marriage.

Eldorado, Texas - In justifying the removal nearly 500 women and children from the YFZ Ranch, Marleigh Meisner, spokesperson for Texas Child Protective Services, expressed the agency's concerned opinion that the FLDS culture was one of abuse which raised young girls to be married off to older men and young boys to become sexual predators.

Eldorado, Texas - In justifying the removal nearly 500 women and children from the YFZ Ranch, Marleigh Meisner, spokesperson for Texas Child Protective Services, expressed the agency's concerned opinion that the FLDS culture was one of abuse which raised young girls to be married off to older men and young boys to become sexual predators.

San Angelo, Texas - Janet, an FLDS matriarch, tearfully embraces young girls as they arrive at the old historic Fort Concho, where nearly 500 FLDS women and children would be temporarily sheltered in primitive buildings such as former horse barns. The large amount of people that Texas Child Protective Services called victims overwhelmed the state's foster care system.

San Angelo, Texas - Janet, an FLDS matriarch, tearfully embraces young girls as they arrive at the historic Fort Concho, where hundreds of FLDS women and children would be temporarily sheltered in primitive buildings such as former horse barns. The large amount of people that Texas Child Protective Services called victims threatened to overwhelm the state's foster care system.

San Angelo, Texas - Young FLDS women gather behind a fence at Fort Concho, waving to other FLDS women in another building out of view. Texas Child Protective Services and Texas State Troopers made every effort to keep the nearly 500 women and children in custody out of view, going so far as to confiscate cel phones and other electronic devices.

San Angelo, Texas - Young FLDS women gather behind a fence at Fort Concho, waving to other FLDS women in another building out of view. Texas Child Protective Services and Texas State Troopers made every effort to keep the nearly 500 women and children in custody out of view and out of contact, going so far as to confiscate their cel phones.

San Angelo, Texas - A group of FLDS boys run from journalists at Fort Concho after being ordered away by Texas Child Protective Services officials. Soon CPS would separate the mothers from their children and spread the children throughout the state into foster care.

San Angelo, Texas - A group of FLDS boys run from journalists at Fort Concho after being ordered away by Texas Child Protective Services officials. Soon CPS would separate the mothers from their children and spread the children into shelters throughout the state.

Eldorado, Texas - Back on the YFZ Ranch for the first time since the raid began ten days earlier, Marie Musser, an FLDS mother of three, clings to a post for support while telling the story of CPS taking her three children from her away earlier that day. For a secretive group that had long kept the outside world at a distance, the thought of their children living in the modern world among outsiders and without their parents had become a painful reality.

Eldorado, Texas - Back on the YFZ Ranch for the first time since the raid began ten days earlier, Marie Musser, an FLDS mother of three, clings to a post for support while telling the story of CPS taking her children from her earlier that day. For a secretive group that had long kept the outside world at a distance, the thought of their children living in the modern world among outsiders and without their parents had become a painful reality.

San Angelo, Texas - Hundred of attorneys, officials, and FLDS members lined up to get through security and into the Tom Green County Courthouse for the initial 14-day hearing to decide the fate of the 416 children removed in the raid on the FLDS Church's YFZ Ranch. As each child and parent were entitled to a state-appointed attorney, the hearing was quickly bogged down with objections from dozens of attorneys. After two long days of hearings, including twenty-one hours of testimony, Judge Barbara Walther ruled that CPS could keep the FLDS children in foster care until at least the next hearing, scheduled for two months after the raid began.

San Angelo, Texas - Hundred of attorneys, officials, and FLDS members lined up to get through security and into the Tom Green County Courthouse for the initial hearing to decide the fate of the 416 children removed in the raid on the FLDS Church's YFZ Ranch. As each child and parent were entitled to a state-appointed attorney, the hearing was quickly bogged down with objections from dozens of attorneys. After two long days of hearings, including twenty-one hours of testimony, Judge Barbara Walther ruled that CPS could keep the FLDS children in foster care until at least the next hearing, scheduled for two months after the raid began.

San Angelo, Texas - FLDS member Dan Jessop and his wife Louisa Bradshaw wade through media cameras as they leave the Tom Green County Courthouse after a custody hearing on the status of their newborn son. CPS had refused proof that Bradshaw was an adult until her child was born in state custody, at which point they sought to take custody of the newborn. Bradshaw did her case no good by refusing to answer such seemingly simple questions as who attended her wedding and who else lived in her home.

San Angelo, Texas - FLDS member Dan Jessop and his wife Louisa Bradshaw wade through media cameras as they leave the Tom Green County Courthouse after a custody hearing on the status of their newborn son. CPS had refused proof that Bradshaw was an adult until her child was born in state custody, at which point they sought to take custody of the newborn. Bradshaw did her case no good by refusing to answer such seemingly simple questions as who attended her wedding and who else lived in her home.

Eldorado, Texas - Nearly two months after 416 FLDS children had been removed from the polygamous sect's YFZ Ranch, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that CPS must return the children due to a lack of evidence. Having spent two months in a shelter, Edson Jessop's young sons Zachery, Ephraim and Russell Jessop wanted nothing more than to see an end to the persistent media coverage and return to their quiet family life on the ranch.

Eldorado, Texas - Nearly two months after 416 FLDS children had been removed from the polygamous sect's YFZ Ranch, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that CPS must return the children due to a lack of sufficient evidence. Having spent two months in a shelter, Edson Jessop's young sons Zachery, Ephraim and Russell Jessop wanted nothing more than to see an end to the persistent media coverage and return to their quiet family life on the ranch.

Eldorado, Texas - FLDS member Sarah Draper waits to testify to a grand jury at the Schleicher County Courthouse. Though CPS was forced to return over four-hundred FLDS children to their parents, evidence seized in the raid led to grand jury hearings that resulted in sexual abuse and underage marriage charges being filed against several FLDS men including the polygamous sect's imprisoned leader Warren Jeffs. The men are currently awaiting trial.

Eldorado, Texas - FLDS member Sarah Draper waits to testify to a grand jury at the Schleicher County Courthouse. Though CPS was forced to return over four-hundred FLDS children to their parents, evidence seized in the raid led to grand jury hearings that resulted in sexual abuse and underage marriage charges being filed against several FLDS men including the polygamous sect's imprisoned leader Warren Jeffs. The men are currently awaiting trial while courts examine the validity of the search warrants.

Best of Utah 2009 – City Weekly

bestofutah.jpgHow cool is this? I made City Weekly’s Best of Utah list. And just look at the name of the award:

BEST RECORDER OF A BACK STORY BEHIND A MEDIA CLUSTERF*CK

Thank you very much, City Weekly. My parents will be so proud!

For anyone who came here from the City Weekly mention (which is quite a chore considering the crazy URL we’ve got here- 166.70.what?), I’ve linked to some of the posts they praised in the text of the award:

When hundreds of journalists descended on West Texas for two months to cover the state raid on the FLDS compound in El Dorado, Salt Lake Tribune chief photographer Trent Nelson kept careful account of the details on his blog Fly on the Wall (http://tribblogs.com/fly/). Nelson puts some of his best photos on the blog, as well as ironic and sometimes deeply emotional posts related to the stories he documents. His posts on the FLDS story illustrated the drama, as well as frequent boredom, that comes with hunkering down in a small town to cover a big story.

Thanks again to City Weekly.

Meeting Betty Jessop

NOTE: I have spent years covering polygamy and events in the FLDS community, including the first trial of Warren Jeffs and the 2008 raid on the YFZ Ranch in Texas. You can find all of my posts on polygamy by clicking here: Category:Polygamy

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There are two competing story lines to Betty Jessop, which I think are summed up in the two photos above.

1. The FLDS view (on the left) is a smiling and happy young FLDS woman who returned to her faith and family when she turned 18 and now lives a wonderful life surrounded by family and friends.

2. The worldly view (for lack of a better term) is a curiosity and sadness that this young girl had escaped a cult but chose to return to its secretive culture and give up her freedom.

Please use a permanent marker to circle your position on the computer screen. Especially if you are at work.

Hey, did I mention that I met Betty Jessop?

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We were ushered into this dining room area in a home on the YFZ Ranch and met Betty. She was surrounded by (I’m guessing) her sisters and other family members. They were all a little nervous at all the attention, and there was much giggling. I don’t think too many strangers with cameras come around.

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Betty laughed and was a little camera shy at first. It was the end of a long day and she hadn’t expected to have her photo taken tonight. She was hardly the first young woman to ask me to delete any “ugly” pictures. I thought she looked great. We sat down and she talked, and after thirty minutes or so it was over.

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Last night I went to a local bookstore to hear Betty’s mother, Carolyn Jessop, talk about her bestselling book, Escape. As she read about Betty, Carolyn got emotional. At one point, reading about her leaving, she told of going back into the house to get her daughter and saying, “Betty, I will not leave you behind!”

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During the Q&A Carolyn was asked how her kids are doing now. Speaking of Betty, she said that Betty had turned down a friend’s offer to pay for college. About Brooke’s article on the front page yesterday, FLDS Teen Disputes Mom’s Book, Carolyn said, “That’s been very painful.” Brooke’s story focused on a book that Betty has been writing about her experiences in and out of the FLDS community. Someone described it to me as “Escape From Escape.”

Carolyn said that Betty had lots of friends when she was attending public school after leaving the FLDS (in West Jordan, a suburb of Salt Lake City), and she worried that the book might destroy Betty’s relationships with those friends, further locking her into the FLDS society.

Someone asked if the FLDS members of Carolyn’s family had read the book. Carolyn said she didn’t know, that if any had they would never admit it as the book would be contraband. During our interview with Betty, she said she had read parts of her mother’s book, and expressed hurt by some of it.

Carolyn talked about how smart Betty was, and suggested that Betty would be saddened at the state of education among the FLDS. She said Betty had taken a child development class in high school, and would know sexual abuse when she saw it.

Someone said to Carolyn, “I have a hard time understanding what is pulling Betty back.” Carolyn said that Betty was a favorite of her father, that he named her his favorite name. She said Merril was very protective of Betty. If the girls got in trouble the punishment would be, “A slap to the sisters and a sucker for Betty.”

According to Carolyn, leaving the community was a big blow to Betty. In the FLDS community, she never got in trouble. She was the favored daughter of one of the most powerful men. Teachers bowed to Betty. She had the world by the tail. When she left and went to a public school, she felt alone. She missed her half brother. All the kids had a hard time without their siblings.

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I think you are seeing some of the people that Betty felt alone without in these photos.

The mind control is really strong, Carolyn said. We sent her to twelve therapists; it was impossible to break through the mind control.

Carolyn said she calls and texts Betty all the time, though she wasn’t sure if it was really Betty’s number or if Betty even had access to a phone. “Once in a while I get a call,” Carolyn said.

I remembered that Betty had a phone and a camera, which you see in most of these photos.

Carolyn said that if Betty wanted to get out, she would. “I would make sure,” said Carolyn.