Authorities in New Mexico say they have found the remains of a boy at a squalid compound where 11 starving children were rescued on Saturday.
The search for Abdul-ghani Wahhaj led authorities to the compound shielded by old tyres and wooden pallets on the outskirts of Amalia, a tiny, remote town near the Colorado border.
It is not yet certain the remains are of Abdul-ghani, who would have turned four on Monday.
However, Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe indicated the body appeared to be that of a boy similar in age to Abdul-ghani, who suffers from seizures and was reported missing in December after his father said he was taking him to a park in Jonesboro, Georgia.
The father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, had told his wife he wanted to perform an exorcism on the child, authorities said.
Sheriff Hogrefe, appearing to be fighting back tears, said: ‘We discovered the remains yesterday on Abdul’s fourth birthday.’
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Investigators said they found the heavily armed Wahhaj along with four other adults and 11 hungry children living in filthy conditions.
All the adults were arrested on suspicion of child abuse. Wahhaj is also being detained on a Georgia warrant that seeks his extradition to face a charge of abducting his son.
Authorities returned to search the compound after interviews on Friday and Saturday led them to believe the boy might still be on the property.
At a news conference in Taos, Sheriff Hogrefe described FBI surveillance efforts in recent months that included photographs of the compound and interviews. He said the images were shared with the mother of Abdul-ghani but she did not spot her son.
He said: ‘I had no probable cause to get a search warrant to go onto this property.’
However, the sheriff said the ‘breaking point’ in seeking a search warrant came when Georgia authorities received a message that may have originated within the compound that children were starving inside.
It was not clear who sent the message or how it was communicated.
Children aged between one and 15 were rescued from the compound that had been under investigation for months. The sheriff said it appeared the children had not eaten for days.
Women arrested at the property, believed to be mothers of some of the children, have been identified as 35-year-old Jany Leveille, 38-year-old Hujrah Wahhaj, and 35-year-old Subhannah Wahhaj.