Eleven children found at squalid New Mexico compound, two arrested

(Reuters) – Deputies who raided a squalid compound surrounded by tires and an earthen berm in rural New Mexico have arrested two men and taken 11 children into protective custody for their own health and safety, the sheriff said.

Three women believed to be the children’s mothers also were detained during last week’s sweep, 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 on the department’s Facebook page.

Hogrefe said in the statement that Siraj Wahhaj, 39, was taken into custody on a warrant accusing him of abducting his 3-year-old son. 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. It was not immediately clear if the two suspects, who are both from Clayton County, Georgia, had retained criminal defense attorneys.

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.”

Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bill Trott

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