|Aid sought for church's victims|
By Stephen Speckman|
Deseret Morning News
They are boys banished from their own families because polygamous FLDS Church leaders said it should be so.
Now, the nonprofit group Diversity, founded by Dan Fischer, a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is asking for the public to help more than 400 of these boys, many of whom are forced to live out of cars and behind Dumpsters.
Two of these so-called "lost boys" spoke out publicly for the first time on the state Capitol steps Saturday afternoon. Joining them were dozens of former FLDS teens and young adults — a few were females or girlfriends — along with Jon Krakauer, author of "Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith," and Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
"We just want everyone to become aware that this is really happening in the United States," said Richard Gilbert. "There's a lot that goes on that people need to see and help with."
Gilbert, 19, was kicked out of the FLDS Church, which is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, when he was 16, in part, because he wanted to attend public schools. Gilbert said his father was banished first, followed by the rest of the family after his mother refused to remarry at the direction of FLDS leadership.
Tom Steed, 19, also was excommunicated by FLDS leader Warren Jeffs two years ago. Steed's supposed sin was "associating" with non-FLDS members and watching three movies.
Steed looked into TV cameras Saturday and told current FLDS members, "Take responsibility for your children and your actions — ignorance is not acceptable."
The two teens were part of a press conference that often focused on the "fanatical" leadership of Jeffs, who rules over an FLDS sect of about 10,000 located in the adjoining towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah.
More FLDS members are said to be living in Canada and Texas. Where Jeffs is staying at this time remains unclear.
The challenge, Steed said, was coming forward, knowing that some of the faces in the crowd on the Capitol steps might mean excommunication or a harder life for some families who are still FLDS members.
The goal, say former members, is for more to come forward with their stories. Some, including Krakauer, say reform within the FLDS church needs to start with getting Jeffs out of his leadership role.
"The major issue here is the treatment of children," said Fischer, who left the FLDS Church 12 years ago. He now says it's a church that hides behind freedom of religion as it destroys families among its membership. In the wake of this destruction are children who Fischer and Krakauer say need a "leg up."
Krakauer is now a "dad" or mentor to Steed.
"I sincerely had no intention of becoming an activist," Krakauer told the Deseret Morning News. When asked whether he has ideas for a follow-up to "Under the Banner of Heaven," he replied without regret, "I can't write about this anymore."
As Krakauer's objectivity on issues related to the FLDS Church diminishes, he said removing Jeffs from power would make things "measurably better" within the church. "He convinces good people to do terrible things," Krakauer said.
As Shurtleff, also a mentor, spoke above the flapping sound of a nearby American flag, he turned to the boys seated on the steps and said, "I don't care what you've been taught — that flag flies for you."
Also attending the press conference was Ed Smart, whose daughter Elizabeth allegedly was abducted by religious zealot Brian David Mitchell. Smart said he drew similarities between the boys' plight and the circumstances of his own daughter's abduction, and said he showed up Saturday to lend his support — much like he received while Elizabeth was missing.
Shurtleff said that while the press conference was meant to focus on the children, there are ongoing criminal and civil investigations.
Brent Jeffs filed suit last week in 3rd District Court against Warren Jeffs and his brothers Blaine Balmforth Jeffs and Leslie Balmforth Jeffs. The suit alleges the three men sexually abused the now-21-year-old, a nephew to the men, when he was a child.
The attorney general also called for more mentors to contact 1-877-GET-A-DAD to find out how they can help.
In some cases, children who have been abandoned by their families may be up for possible legal adoption. At the very least, Diversity officials say monetary donations would go toward helping to educate these boys, many of whom don't have high school diplomas.
"If their families will take them back, that's what we want the most," said Diversity director Lynette Phillips. "We would love for it to be a healthy relationship — we just want these kids to have loving homes."
Originally published Sunday, August 1, 2004
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