Police discovered 11 children in a squalid New Mexico compound while searching for a missing 3-year-old boy.
Two men, Siraj Wahhaj and Lucan Morton, were taken into custody after the Taos County Sheriff’s office performed a raid on Friday, sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said in a statement. Three women also believed to be the children’s mothers were also detained. On Sunday, Hogrefe said arrest warrants charging 11 counts of child abuse had been served on the five adults.
The children, whose ages range from 1-15, were all taken into protective custody. Hogrefe described the compound as a small trailer buried into the ground covered in plastic and tires, in a rural part of the state.
“The only food we saw were a few potatoes and a box of rice in the filthy trailer,” the sheriff said during a news conference. Both the adults and the children looked like “refugees not only with no food or fresh water, but with no shoes, personal hygiene and basically dirty rags for clothing. We all gave the kids our water and what snacks we had ― it was the saddest living conditions and poverty I have seen.”
The FBI had placed the compound under surveillance two months ago, Hogrefe said, but didn’t have enough evidence that searching the property was essential. Police received a search warrant last week after seeing a third-party message from someone on the compound that said “we are starving and need food and water.”
Wahhaj was armed with an AR-15 rifle, five loaded 30-round magazines and four loaded pistols. More rounds of ammo were found inside the compound.
The search for the young child began back in January, when Wahhaj’s estranged wife, Hakima Ramzi, reportedly recorded a video on Facebook begging for help in finding her son.
“He’s sick, he needs his medications,” she said. “He needs everything. I don’t know if he’s alive, or he is, well, I don’t know his condition now. So please, please, I need your help to find my husband and my son.”
The search for the boy, AG Wahhaj, is ongoing, the sheriff said. The boy will turn 4 years old on Monday.