Two young girls who were missing for months have been rescued from what authorities say is a religious cult in Utah.
Sisters Dinah and Hattie Coltharp went missing along with their two brothers in September, in the midst of contentious divorce proceedings between their parents. The mother claims their father, John Coltharp, is a “doomsday prepper” who belongs to a fundamentalist Mormon sect.
Mr Coltharp was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and obstruction of justice days before the children were discovered. Despite being offered deals by the prosecutor, he refused to reveal where the children were located, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
Officers found the two brothers, ages 6 and 7, during a raid of the cult compound on Monday. The two girls were found later that day, following an hours-long search involving K-9 units, four helicopters, and numerous deputies, according to 2News. One of the girls was found hiding in blue water barrels to the southeast of the compound. The other was locked in a trailer five miles away.
"He was trying to hide the girls," Lieutenant Del Schlosser of the Iron County Sheriff’s office told 2News. "He did not want them to be found by law-enforcement.”
A medical examiner told the Spectrum that both girls were cold and dehydrated, but ok.
Mr Coltharp’s sister, Cindy Ray, told the Tribune that her brother had started a fundamentalist Mormon sect with his associate, Samuel Shaffer. On his website, Mr Schaffer claims to be a prophet who has received revelations directly from God. He also expresses support for polygamy and child marriage – beliefs Ms Coltharp said her brother expressed, too.
Ms Colthrap told the Denver Post that she was worried about the children's well being because her brother had threatened to kill them before allowing anyone else to get to them. Other family members told the Post they were worried that he had given them to another man for marriage.
Another of Mr Coltharp’s sisters, Heather Coltharp Lee, took to Facebook to decry her sibling’s actions.
“I hope my brother rots in jail, which pains me so much to say, because he is my little brother, and I love him,” she wrote. “But his choices have destroyed so many lives.”
Mr Shaffer’s children were also discovered during the raid. He was arrested and charged with two counts of child kidnapping and four counts of reckless child abuse.