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Children back, but investigation continues

The members of a polygamist sect raided by authorities two months ago have their children back – but with a criminal investigation looming, the sect's troubles may not be over.

“There have been criminal problems located out there,” said Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran, who was with state troopers and child welfare authorities when they raided the Yearning for Zion Ranch in West Texas on April3.

The Texas Department of Public Safety and the attorney general's office have taken over the criminal investigation at the request of authorities in the rural ranching community. While they confirm they are investigating, neither will say how long that may take.

Child-welfare officials have alleged that members of the church that runs the ranch pushed underage girls into marriages with older men, but the evidence needed to support a criminal case could prove elusive.

DNA evidence acquired in the custody case is off-limits to criminal investigators without a court order, and a prosecution likely would go nowhere without at least one willing witness in the insular ranch community. Members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints had a strong distrust of outsiders even before all of the roughly 430 children at the ranch were taken away.

The children were allowed to leave foster care after a judge bowed to a Texas Supreme Court ruling last week that the state overreached by taking all the children even though evidence of sexual abuse was limited to five teenage girls. Half the children taken from the ranch were no older than 5.