ALBUQUERQUE, N. M. – A raid on a New Mexico desert compound turned 11 children wearing rags and living in filth, and also broke open a bizarre story of guns, exorcisms, and a search for a missing boy who suffers from epileptic seizures and is nowhere to be found.
The father of the boy was among five people arrested after the raid near the border with Colorado. Documents made public in a court filing Monday said the father told the mother of the boy on the flight to Georgia that he wanted to perform an exorcism on the child, because he believed that he was possessed by the devil.
Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said deputies arrested the father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, and four adults on child abuse charges after the find of the 11 children Friday in a makeshift compound in the small community of Amalia, near the Colorado border. It was littered with “scented ” trash” and the lack of clean water, authorities said.
Within Wahhaj, 39, heavily armed with multiple firearms, including a loaded AR-15, before he was taken into custody, the sheriff said.
His son, Abdul-ghani, who was 3 when he disappeared in December last year, was not among the children found. But Hogrefe said authorities have reason to believe that the boy was on the compound a few weeks ago.
Hogrefe’s deputies are searching for the child, along with the FBI and Georgia authorities in Clayton County, where officials say the boy lived for his father took him around Dec. 1, 2017.
The boy’s mother told authorities the boy suffers from epileptic seizures, can not walk, because of severe medical problems, and requires constant attention.
She told police in December that Wahhaj had taken the boy for a trip to a park and never returned.
Clayton County police said in a missing persons bulletin that Wahhaj and his son were last seen Dec. 13 in Alabama, traveling with five other children and two adults.
Georgia authorities said Wahhaj was traveling by Chilton County on Dec. 13 with seven children and another adult when the car is tilted. Wahhaj told the police the group was traveling from Georgia to New Mexico to go camping.
The trooper who wrote the report, said that he found no camping equipment in or in the vicinity of the car, but that Wahhaj was in possession of three pistols, two rifles, a bag of ammunition, and a bulletproof vest. Wahhaj said the soldier, that he is in possession of the weapons legally and had a Georgia license to carry concealed weapons.
“Mr. Wahhaj seemed very concerned about his weapons, and said several times that they are his property and that he owned them legally,” the report said.
It was not immediately known Monday or Wahhaj and the others charged in the child abuse in New Mexico —another man and three women, believed to be the mother of the 11 children — had retained lawyers. The public defender’s office in Taos County not immediately return a telephone message from the Associated Press seeking comment.
The taos County sheriff determined that the women faced with costs as a 35-year-old Jany Leveille, 38 years old Hujrah Wahhaj, and the 35-year-old Subhannah Wahhaj. They were arrested in the town of Taos and booked in the jail.
The search on the compound came amid a two-month investigation in cooperation with Clayton County authorities and the FBI, according to Hogrefe.
He said FBI agents surveilled the area from a few weeks ago, but not probable cause to search the house.
That changed when Georgia detectives sent a message to Hogrefe office that had initially sent to a third party, saying: “We are hungry and need food and water.”
What authorities found was what Hogrefe called “the saddest living conditions and poverty he has seen in 30 years on the job.
Other than a couple of potatoes and a box of rice, there was little food in the compound, Hogrefe said consisted of a small travel trailer buried in the ground and covered with plastic, no water, plumbing and electricity.
Hogrefe said the adults and children — in the age of 1 to 15 had no shoes, wearing dirty rags for clothing and “looked like a Third World country refugees.”
The grandfather of the missing boy, Imam Siraj Wahhaj of Brooklyn, New York, has a plea on Facebook for help finding his grandson.
In a federal court filing in 2006, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj alleged that he was bullied on the way to and from Morocco by customs agents at JFK Airport in New York, because he is “the son of the famous Islamic Imam Siraj Wahhaj.”
Brumback reported from Jonesboro, Georgia.