Police in rural New Mexico have rescued 11 malnourished children who looked like “third world refugees” after being kept in terrible conditions in a compound
The children, aged 1 to 5 had no shoes and “rags for clothes”, the local sheriff said, adding that they had now been taken into protective custody for their own safety.
Two men have been arrested and three women believed to be the children’s mothers were also detained during the raid which followed a two-month investigation by authorities in New Mexico and Georgia as well as the FBI, Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said in a statement.
Police were reportedly led to the site after receiving a message that read: “We are starving and need food and water.”
Hogrefe said that Siraj Wahhaj, 39, was taken into custody on a warrant accusing him of abducting his 3-year-old son and Lucas Morten was arrested on suspicion of harboring a fugitive.
The missing boy was not found at the compound outside the unincorporated community of Amalia, New Mexico, near the Colorado state line, Hogrefe said, but “it is reasonably believed he was there a few weeks ago”.
Hogrefe said Wahhaj was armed with an AR15-style rifle and four loaded pistols when he was taken into custody.
The sheriff said the compound was made up of a small travel trailer buried in the ground and covered with a tarp, providing no running water, plumbing or electricity.
“The only food we saw were a few potatoes and a box of rice in the filthy trailer,” Hogrefe said.
“But what was most surprising, and heartbreaking was when the team located a total of five adults and 11 children that 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.”
Hogrefe told ABC News that the children were hungry, thirsty and filthy.
“I’ve been a cop for 30 years. I’ve never seen anything like this. Unbelievable,” he said.
“They were skinny, their ribs showed, they were in very poor hygiene and very scared.”
The officer added that the women and children “were brainwashed and feel great intimidation from the men that were in control of this facility”.