September 14, 2015 started out as an pretty ordinary day. I admit I was feeling somewhat sentimental as it was my grandmother’s birthday (on my mother’s side), and I was really wishing I had been able to see her at least one more time before she passed away — to let her and my children meet each other and get to be part of each other’s lives.
That morning I attended my classes at the Salt Lake Community College, then headed up town to my gardening job for the afternoon, and then to my documentary film making class at the University of Utah in the evening. Documentary class was fairly uneventful, and after it was over I walked out to my car in fading daylight under cloudy skies and a sprinkling of rain. When I got into my car and turned my phone’s data back on it lit up. I had messages from people who had seen the news and were asking if my family in Hildale/Colorado City were okay.
“Okay? What’s happening, why wouldn’t they be okay?!”
My mind and heart began to race with the possibilities as I turned to Facebook to see if I could find out what was going on.
One after another I saw the posts — there had been a record amount of rain in the little community that I used to call “home,” which had caused flash flooding and people were unaccounted for. Some vehicles had been swept away and their occupants had not yet been found. Oh dear God! Whether my immediate family members were involved or not everyone in that community were people I considered “family.”
I felt a desperate need to know who was missing and what was happening. I sat in my car as the rainfall increased and rolled down my windshield in little rivers. Although I knew it was a long shot to think she would actually answer — the odds of becoming a millionaire in the PowerBall Lottery were astronomically better — I scrolled down my contacts list until I found my mother’s name, and I dialed. I could feel my heart pounding in every cell of my body as I listened to the cold, echoing ring of the phone — hoping beyond hope that she would pick up. But those hopes were unfounded as the generic voicemail greeting began. After the tone, with tears in my eyes and fear in my voice I left a message. I honestly can’t remember exactly what I said, but I know it involved pleading with her to just let me know if my family was okay.
Suddenly startled back to reality, I realized that it wasn’t going to do any good for me to just sit there in the parking lot, so I headed home. The tears ran down my face almost as wildly as the raindrops ran down the windows of my van. The rhythmic swishing of the windshield wipers were somehow soothing as I drove home feeling a strange mixture of powerful emotions and numbness.
There was to be no news of the welfare of my family that night.
The next day I couldn’t concentrate. In class I kept finding myself checking my phone, looking at Facebook to see if any new information was shared. Some comments rumored who was involved, but offered little comfort. After my classes were over for the day I called in to my job where I did alterations and said I wouldn’t be coming in today. I posted a list of my family members and asked if anyone who still lived in the area had any idea if they were involved or if they were safe. When that didn’t return any useful information, I took what I felt like was a pretty bold step: I called the Mojave County law enforcement dispatch to ask what was required to request a welfare check. I knew that any intrusion by outside authorities was despised and would not be well-accepted by my family, but I needed to know if they were okay. The kind woman on the other end of the line was extremely sympathetic of my situation and understanding of my fears, but unfortunately, I needed a current address for them to go to, and I had no idea where any of my family was living now.
My last resort was to call NewEra — the company that my husband had worked for for over two decades while we were in the church. They had relocated back to Short Creek (what we called the twin towns of Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona where the FLDS church was headquartered.) After all, they were running a business, and would have to answer the phone. I would appeal to their sympathies and hope that they wouldn’t just hang up on me. A few rings, a click, and a voice on the other end of the line! I was nervous and shaking as I explained who I was, and stated why I was calling — pleading with the voice to tell me if my family was safe. She was very cautious in her responses to my inquiries but she assured me that none of my immediate family had been involved, without giving any more information that she had to. The relief that this information afforded me wasn’t as comforting as I had supposed it would be. Although my family appeared to be safe, someone’sfamily was not, and I could only imagine the horror my people were enduring.
I scoured news articles, Facebook posts, and the videos and pictures that were posted — looking for familiar faces, wanting to be a part, in some way, of what was happening in such a familiar place, to people I knew and loved. It was truly overwhelming.
On Wednesday, September 16, I wrote the following and posted it to my Facebook page:
As I have been thinking about the events that have unfolded in Short Creek over the last few days, there has been a lot on my mind. I can’t seem to stop thinking about it, actually. The tragic loss of life is always difficult, but when it involves so many, and nearly entire families, it’s staggering.
There’s a possibility that had the people in the FLDS had access to anything from the “outside” world — radio, internet, etc. — that this tragedy could have been avoided. But it was, in reality, a horrific accident, one that was nearly impossible to predict. I have watched the videos of the flooding posted on Facebook. It wouldn’t have taken much for many others to have been swept away. Children running in the streets that were now transformed into raging rivers, people watching from bridges that could easily have been compromised and swept away. I’m just grateful it wasn’t worse. I can’t help but realize how many times, in the years that I lived at the Creek, that could have been me. I remember loading everyone up to drive around town and see if the Creek was running (or flooding). At any one of those times, had conditions changed like they did on Monday, we would have been swept away, too.
These kinds of things happen in nature, and sometimes, tragically, you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes terrible things happen that are simply out of our control.
It has been heart-warming to see the outpouring of love and support in this trying time. I would like to hope that this event will change things, opening up communication, and renew a sense of community. But that’s highly doubtful.
The real tragedy I see in this whole situation is the suffering that is avoidable, the suffering that is inflicted by choice — the choice of the men who lead the church, and who benefit greatly from it.
I noticed that the youngest child involved in this tragedy was four years old. That’s significant. Why? Because these mothers were young, healthy, and in the past would have continued to have babies. But since at least the end of 2011, intimacy has been outlawed. We were told that “More than a handshake is adultery!” Which was soon more closely defined as a handshake not lasting more than three seconds. The relationships of these people have been destroyed — for around four years. Think about that for a moment. Let is sink in. No affection, so intimacy — not even a hug or comfort.
From what I understand, the husband of two of the girls hasn’t been around a lot. Sent off to work to build up the church. To benefit men who live like royalty. Can you possibly comprehend what it would be like to be separated from your family by “god” and then have them taken in death? It’s a lonely, sorrowful existence filled with fear. Fear that you will be found “worthy,” fear that you’ll have your children removed from you, fear that you will be sent away, alone, to “repent.” Repent of what? Some people never know.
I watched the video of Joe Jessop, and it hurt my heart. But I had to wonder, if we could know the truth, how long had it been since he had been allowed to spend time with his family? Did he understand why the raid in Texas *really* happened, or is he still disillusioned about the innocence of his prophet? Was he aware of the children at the ranch who were there without either of their parents? The church leaders were the first to take children from their mothers. Seth Jeff’s, at the time of the raid, told how they were making videos and websites with the purpose of “pulling at the heartstrings of the gentiles” and turn public opinion in their favor. The other thing this accomplished was a distraction from the truth of what was happening at the ranch.
These people aren’t losing their homes over their faithfulness in any way other than because they follow Warren Jeffs, Lyle Jeffs, John Wayman and the other leading men in not following the laws and paying taxes. We were told many times to “bow our backs” and keep giving money, sometimes specifically for taxes but, we didn’t realize the money wasn’t being used for taxes. The people are likely being told this is solely about the “wicked persecuting them for their righteousness.” But that simply isn’t true.
I have spoken with women who have been sent away without their children, or had some of their children taken from them. Men have been sent away, then their wives are sometimes sent away, leaving children without their parents. Everyone has a “caretaker.” Family bonds are destroyed. Children weep for their mothers, and mothers for their children. But outwardly, they are required to rejoice in “God’s” will. These children are poisoned against their parents, being told they aren’t “worthy” and to pray for them to repent. I can hardly fathom the psychological damage being done to these little people — and their parents.
At the time of the Texas raid, I was crushed. I couldn’t imagine anyone taking away my children. The leaders summoned sympathy on the grounds of how horrible it was to remove children from mothers. Yet, they already were doing the same thing. Not really the same thing, though, what they are doing is so much worse. In the raid, those children and mothers viewed the officials as the enemy. They prayed — we all prayed — for our Heavenly Father to deliver them from the enemy and return them home. What can they turn to for comfort now? These mothers and children torn apart by “god.” They are required to be grateful for corrections, opportunities to repent, etc. They believe this is God’s judgement on them. But most have no clue why they’re kicked out. They’re devastated, alone and frightened. They prayed with every fiber of their being — but for what? What enemy can you point to, what can you pray for deliverance from? God?
Women (and men) have been exiled, accused of the “murder of unborn children.” In the real world, we call it miscarriage. Women who had been to see a male doctor could be sent away for that. Medical professionals who prescribed birth control for any reason were sent away, as was anyone who had used it.
The circular logic is like a cage for your mind: “god and the prophet always and only do right, but this doesn’t add up, and the scriptures say that, but God and the prophet always and only do right.” Your head spins and your heart aches, it seems as though there’s no way to win. Every event, every circumstance is twisted in its meaning to fit the purposes of the leadership.
The tragic loss of life over the past few days is horrific. But I argue that those dear people already had their lives stolen away from them. They had their families torn apart. Love was outlawed. It’s too late for them, but what can be done to help free those who are still alive but trapped in a living hell?
This question is still one that weighs heavily on my mind and heart:
“What can be done to help free those who are still alive but trapped in a living hell?”
The only answer I have come up with so far is to keep spreading the word. Telling the stories. Educating those who are on the outside, and raise awareness of the truth of what is happening behind the tall walls, fences and mental barriers put in place by the leaders of the FLDS cult. I hope that others will follow my stories and posts. Share them. Together we can make a difference and hopefully bring freedom to those trapped by fear.