|4 Girls to Remain in State Custody in Alamo Case
By Andy Davis
September 30, 2008
TEXARKANA — At court appearances Monday, the parents of four girls taken from Tony Alamo’s religious compound in southwest Arkansas waived their right to a hearing on the state’s decision to take them from the church, allowing the girls to remain in foster care for at least three more weeks.
The two pairs of sisters were among six girls, ages 10 to 17, taken into protective custody Sept. 20 after a raid by more than 100 police officers and social services caseworkers investigating allegations of physical and sexual abuse and child pornography at the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries compound in Fouke.
Alamo, 74, was arrested last week in Flagstaff, Ariz., and charged with taking minors across state lines for sexual purposes. He waived his right to fight extradition and was to be transported to Arkansas. However, an official at the Coconino County Detention Facility in Flagstaff said Alamo was there Monday afternoon.
At a hearing for two of the girls Friday in Texarkana, Miller County Circuit Judge Jim Hudson found that probable cause exists to believe the girls had been abused, and he ordered them to remain in foster care until Oct. 20, when a more extensive hearing will be held on where the girls should live.
Similar hearings for the other four girls, who appeared briefly before Miller County Circuit Judge Joe Griffin on Monday, will be held Oct. 21.
The mother and father of two of the girls appeared before Griffin, as did the father of the other two girls, Arkansas Department of Human Services spokesman Julie Munsell said. All the parents and children were represented by courtappointed attorneys.
The parents and their daughters “seemed to be in relatively good spirits,” Munsell said. “Everyone was very reserved and conducted themselves appropriately.” Munsell announced the outcome about two and a half hours after the appearances ’ scheduled start. Afterward, the parents were allowed a brief visit with their daughters.
By waiving their right to a probable cause hearing, the parents didn’t admit that any abuse occurred, Munsell said. Parents in abuse and neglect cases commonly wait until the adjudication hearing, which is more extensive, to present their arguments, she said.
At those hearings in October, the judges could decide to keep the girls in foster care, place them with relatives or return them to their parents, possibly with conditions.
In the meantime, the girls remain in foster homes and will receive counseling and whatever other mental-health services they need, Munsell said.
She said the sisters are being kept in separate homes for reasons she can’t disclose. Usually, when sisters are separated, it’s because having them live together would be disruptive or interfere with their treatment, she said.
All of the parents are being allowed visits with their daughters. Such visits usually occur in Department of Human Services offices, supervised by department caseworkers, Munsell said.
The court hearings are closed to the public, and details of the cases are confidential. During the proceedings Friday and Monday, police blocked off access to the courthouse’s second floor, where the courtroom is located, and used a makeshift screen to shield the girls from view as they came and went through a basement entrance.
The parents who showed up for court Monday included a black couple, both dressed in dark suits, and a white man, similarly dressed, with long hair and a beard.
All of the parents declined to comment.
About 30 minutes after the scheduled start of the hearings, two church members dressed in Tony Alamo Christian Ministries T-shirts walked along the streets surrounding the courthouse and stuffed Alamo newsletters under windshield wipers.
“Jesus said go into the Earth and preach the gospel, and that’s what we do,” said Jonathan Garner, 15, who attends Alamo’s church in Fort Smith.
He said the allegations of abuse are “just a lie from the anti-Christ media.” “Nothing like that is going on,” Garner said. “They say they’re being held. Nobody’s being held. You can just get up and leave any time you want.” He said he didn’t know any of the girls who were removed from the Fouke compound, adding that Alamo keeps girls and boys separated.
“They don’t, like, hang out and fraternize with each other by themselves,” Garner said. “Pastor Alamo doesn’t allow that kind of stuff.” Information for this article was contributed by Noel E. Oman of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
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