Two armed men were arrested after the children were found with no food or fresh water and ‘dirty rags’ for clothing
Police in rural New Mexico have rescued 11 children from a “squalid” makeshift compound after receiving a tip that they were “starving” and desperately in need of food and water.
The children, ranging in age from one to 15, were turned over to state child-welfare workers. “They were skinny, their ribs showed, they were in very poor hygiene and very scared,” Taos county Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe told ABC News Radio.
Two adult men and three women were initially arrested after police raided the compound Thursday, but the women – believed to be the mothers of the children – were later released.
Hogrefe said the five adults and 11 children “looked like third world country refugees not only with no food or fresh water, but with no shoes, personal hygiene and basically dirty rags for clothing”.
There was little food in the compound, which consisted of a small travel trailer buried in the ground and covered by plastic with no water, plumbing and electricity, Hogrefe said.
According to authorities, the two men, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and Lucan Morton, were heavily armed with rifles, pistols and a large cache of ammunition, and were believed to be Muslim extremists.
The discovery was prompted by a months-long search for a three-year-old child, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, who went missing in Atlanta, Georgia, in November. According to social media posts by the boy’s mother, his father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, disappeared with the child after saying he was taking him to the park.
“This is about my son, he is sick. I don’t know if he is alive ... I don’t know his condition,” said Hakima Ramzi in a tearful Facebook Live video in January pleading for the return of her son who she said had physical and mental disabilities.
Abdul-Ghani was not among the 11 children found at the compound, but authorities said they “reasonably believe” he was there as recently as a few weeks ago.
All the adults found at the compound are related, and are either children or children-in-law of Brooklyn Imam Siraj Wahhaj, the father of Siraj Ibn Wahhaj. In a series of posts since January, the Imam has been asking for help in locating his missing family. Neither Ramzi nor Imam Wahhaj could immediately be reached for comment.
FBI agents had surveilled the compound for several weeks leading up to last week’s raid, but did not find probable cause to conduct a search. Then Hogrefe’s office received a message, thought to have come from someone inside, which read “we are starving and need food and water,” via an unidentified third party.
“I began working on a search warrant right after I got that intercepted message,” Hogrefe said.
In December 2017, the Clayton News Daily reported that Abdul-Ghani and his father had last been seen traveling west through Alabama with several other children and adults. They had been involved in a car accident on 13 December, and indicated to the responding officer that they were on their way to New Mexico for a camping trip.