TAOS, N. M. – A message that people are dying of hunger, presumably from someone in a makeshift compound in the countryside of northern New Mexico, has led to the discovery of 11 children living in filthy conditions.
Taos County Sheriff’s officials said Saturday the children, ranging in age from 1 to 15 were removed from the compound in the small community of Amalia — 145 miles (233 kilometers) northeast of Albuquerque and in an isolated high-desert area near the New Mexico-Colorado border. They were then transferred to the state of the child-welfare workers.
Two men were arrested during the search. Siraj Wahhaj was held at a jail in Georgia, alleged child abduction. Luke Morten was jailed on suspicion of harboring a fugitive, Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said.
It was not immediately clear Sunday if either had retained a lawyer.
A 3-year-old boy missing from Georgia Clayton County since December 2017, was not among the 11 children on the compound.
Three women, presumably the mother of the children, were arrested and later released.
“The children are in our custody and our number one priority is their health and safety, the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department Secretary Monique Jacobsons said in a statement. “We will continue to work closely with law enforcement on this investigation.”
The search on the compound just a few miles from the Colorado border to the middle of a two-month investigation in cooperation with Clayton County authorities and the FBI, according to Hogrefe.
He said FBI agents had monitored the area 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.”
The sheriff said that there is reason to believe that the message is from someone within the compound.
“I’m sure knew that we could not wait for another agency to step up and we had to go check this as soon as possible,” Hogrefe said.
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 without shoes and wore, in principle, dirty rags for clothing and “looked like a Third World country refugees.”
The group appeared to live on the compound for a few months, but the sheriff said it remains unclear how or why they end in New Mexico.