Third-World Refugees Found in Closed Community Without Food and Water
TAOS, NM — August 7, 2018
It all started with a search for a missing 3-year-old boy.
The police and FBI found a closed community in which children were kept in terrible conditions. As Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said, the children, ranging in age from 1 to 15, were removed from the compound in the small community of Amalia, New Mexico, and turned over to state child-welfare workers.
Amalia is 145 miles (233 kilometers) northeast of Albuquerque, in an isolated high-desert area near the New Mexico-Colorado border.
The search involved the Taos County Sheriff's Office, the FBI, Clayton County, Georgia authorities, and Child Protective Services, Hogrefe said in a statement.
The so-called community had little food in the compound, which consisted of a small travel trailer buried in the ground and covered by plastic with no water, plumbing, and electricity.
"The only foods we saw were a few potatoes and a box of rice in the filthy trailer," the sheriff 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."
"We all gave the kids our water and what snacks we had — it was the saddest living conditions and poverty I have seen," the sheriff added.
When the police came to the scene, two armed men walked towards them and asked them to leave the land. The two men, identified later by the sheriff as AG Wahhaj and Lucas Morten, initially refused to follow commands and Wahhaj was armed with a rifle and four handguns, Hogrefe said.
After a short dispute, they were arrested during the search while three women at the compound were initially detained before being released pending further investigation. Perhaps, they are the children’s mothers.
There were no injuries during the search, the sheriff said.
One of the men, 39-year-old Siraj Wahhaj, was jailed on a Georgia warrant alleging child abduction while the other man, identified as Lucas Morten, was arrested on suspicion of harboring a fugitive, according to the police report.
The children were given over to the New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department, police said.
It is known that one of the boys was missing from this community, and now investigators have reason to believe the boy had been at the compound fairly recently. It's not clear whether the boy and Siraj Wahhaj are related.