|Colorado City: preparing for the Apocalypse|
|By Simon Davis in Colorado City, exclusively for Electronic Telegraph|
The playground is eerily quiet at Colorado City's main school. The few visitors who make it to the school's front gates are met on neat lawn by a group of middle-aged men demanding to know what they want. Requests for an interview are tersely turned down and visitors are stalked.
But then Colorado City is a very strange place, somehow reminiscent of a scene from a classic Hitchcock film. Walk into the town's cafe at breakfast time and the place falls silent. The waitress casts a meaningful look at the sheriff drinking his coffee. He nods at her and the woman announces that the restaurant is now closed.
The people of Colorado City, some 90 miles northeast of Las Vegas, are sensitive about the outside world and what it thinks of them. They believe the world is about to end. Their leader, Rulon Jeffs, delivered the news of impending disaster. As leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, the 6,000 people of Colorado City and the neighbouring town of Hildale regard him with reverence.
"President" Jeffs, as he is widely known, feels misunderstood by the outside world. That may be linked to earlier misjudgments about the exact timing when everything earthly would come to an end. Seven years ago, Mr Jeffs instructed school children not to bother attending college because the apocalypse would occur before they could graduate.
But his errors of timing have not deterred the Mormon leader. Outraged by the refusal of state schools to teach his brand of religious prophecy, Mr Jeffs has instituted a boycott of local educational establishments. His followers have responded with gusto, which explains the empty playground at the city school. Attendances have dropped from 1,000 pupils to 350 since Mr Jeffs made his plea. He went further, demanding that anyone refusing to heed his words be ostracised by the community.
Mr Jeffs' behaviour has not worried local education officials. The district superintendant of schools, Alvin Barlow, has few doubts about the man who has emptied his classrooms: "He is the greatest man you will ever meet. He does for us what any good father would do for his family," he said.
Warming to the theme, Mr Barlow, a fellow fundamentalist who has withdrawn his own children from school, added: "The nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles and friends of this community must be able to exercise their right to educate their children the way that they deem best."
DeLoy Bateman, a former church member and a science teacher at the Colorado City high school, said Rulon Jeffs has told Colorado City's population that they will be lifted into heaven with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Rulon Jeffs has not identified a specific date for the end of the world but one member of the community, who refused to be named and was later chastised for talking, said: "President Jeffs just wants to prepare his family for the second coming which will be soon. He is saving us."
Mr Jeffs and his son Warren deny they have made any precise prediction of the world's end. In a statement issued through their lawyer, the pair stated: "The Fundamentalist Church and its officers have not made any predictions in regard to the exact date of the Second Coming. It has long been the teaching of the church that no man knows the hour or the date of that event."
Critics have also focused on other aspects of Mormon life in Colorado City. Lenore Holm, a former church member, said Warren Jeffs had arranged marriages with women as young as 15 in the polygamist community. "Since Warren moved down, that's when everything went wacko-Waco," Mrs Holm said referring to the Branch Davidian sect in Texas that ended in mass suicide. "It's felt more and more like a cult," she added.
About six months ago, Mrs Holm said, she refused to let her 16-year-old daughter become the second wife of a 39-year-old handyman who did work on Warren Jeffs' home. She said the church excommunicated her and is trying to evict her and her ten children living at home.
Back in Colorado City, there was little sign that anyone was preparing for the end of the world. Work continued on several large building projects in the town. As one old man hoeing his front garden in his dungarees said: "Life must go in until he comes and we are saved."
Originally published October 23, 2000
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