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Prosecutors: Men sexually abused girls called them brides

SALT LAKE CITY – Two Utah men who believe in polygamy and doomsday had sexually abused young girls after performing secret marriages, they thought it ordained by God, prosecutors said Friday.

Each man believed that they were married with two girls, ages 4 to 8, one of whom was related to them, prosecutor Kevin Daniels said. The pair formed a group called Knights of the Crystal Knife and made a remote, improvised composition of the containers in the southern desert of Utah.

John Coltharp, 33, was charged this week with child sodomy, about a month later, police found four girls hidden in 50 litres of water in plastic barrels and an abandoned trailer during a raid on the compound.

Similar charges against Samuel Shaffer, 34, Daniels said. The authorities say they are still investigating the case and the full extent of the abuse.

Lawyers of the two men did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Both were charged last month with child kidnapping and other counts after the December raid, about 275 miles (440 km) south of Salt Lake City.

Police officers down in the area with helicopters and dogs to the mother of two of the girls reported them missing, along with two of her sons.

The boys were found in the makeshift compound, but it took the police another day to find the girls, because Shaffer had hidden them in the barrels and the trailer, authorities said.

The girls were found after he was arrested and showed their locations, police said. The children were treated for the effects of cold and symptoms of dehydration and said to restore.

Shaffer and Coltharp were friends who bonded over a shared interest in the mysterious Mormon ideas long abandoned by the mainstream church, police have said.

The child marriages took place in the summer of 2017, before they decamped to the desert in the middle of September in preparation for an apocalypse, or in the hopes of gaining followers, says Daniels, the deputy district attorney in Sanpete County.

“They were actively recruiting; they wanted to build in this group,” the prosecutor said.

A man in California found their writings online and traveled to Utah to work with them and promised a child bride, according to the search warrants made public this week.

The police also found weapons in their compound, Daniels said.

“These are extreme people with extreme views who believe that the end of the world is near,” he said. Police “prevent those little girls to die … or the repeat of a Waco-style shootout.”

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