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New Mexico sheriff: Compound search, 11 children removed

TAOS, N. M. – the police are looking for a rural northern New Mexico compound for a missing 3-year-old boy did not find him but found 11 other children in the squalid conditions and barely food to eat, a sheriff said Saturday.

The children, ranging in age from 1 to 15 were removed from the compound in the small community of Amalia, New Mexico, and transferred to the state child-welfare workers, Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said.

Two men were arrested during the search while the two women in the compound were initially detained before being released pending further investigation, Hogrefe said.

One of the men, a 39-year-old Siraj Wahhaj, was jailed on a Georgia warrant alleged child abduction while the other man, only as Lucas, Morten, was arrested on suspicion of harboring a fugitive, Hogrefe said.

Online court records checked Saturday had no list of lawyers that can comment on the behalf of the men.

The search results from a study with the Taos County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI and Clayton County, Georgia, authorities, Hogrefe said in a statement.

Amalia is 145 miles (233 kilometers) northeast of Albuquerque and in an isolated high-desert area near the New Mexico-Colorado border.

Hogrefe said authorities had carried out monitoring of the connection, while looking for the missing boy, before he decided on Thursday to a search warrant immediately after a Georgia researcher sent a message that someone on the compound allegedly told another person that people in the compound were starving and needed water.

Hogrefe said the search did not turn up the missing boy, identified by the sheriff as AG Wahhaj, but that the researchers had reason to believe that the boy had been at the compound recently.

It is not clear whether the boy and Siraj Wahhaj are related.

There were no injuries during the search, the sheriff said. But Wahhaj and Morten in the first instance, refused to follow commands, and Wahhaj was armed with a rifle and four pistols, Hogrefe said.

There was little food in the compound, which consisted of a small travel trailer buried in the ground and covered with plastic, no water, plumbing and electricity, he said.

“The only thing we saw were a couple of potatoes and a box of rice in the filthy trailer,” the sheriff said.

The adults and the children appeared as the “refugees not only with no food or water, but with no shoes, personal hygiene and basically the dirty rags for clothes,” the sheriff said. “We gave the children our water and some snacks we had – it was the most sad living conditions and the poverty that I’ve seen.”

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