TAOS COUNTY, New Mexico — The story of a missing 3-year-old Clayton County boy took another dramatic turn Tuesday, as New Mexico authorities announced they had found the remains of an unidentified young boy after raiding a compound in the small, remote town of Amalia.
Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe indicated the body appeared to be that of a boy similar in age to Abdul-ghani Wahhaj, who suffers from seizures and was reported missing in December after his father said he was taking him to a park in Jonesboro.
The search for Abdul-ghani led authorities Friday to the squalid compound shielded by old tires, wooden pallets and an earthen wall studded with broken glass. Investigators said they found the heavily armed Wahhaj along with four other adults and 11 hungry children living in filthy conditions.
The child’s father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, was taken into custody without incident, but there was no sign of Abdul-ghani.
Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe confirmed Tuesday that the remains of a child were found Monday during a search of the compound.
"We discovered the remains yesterday on Abdul's fourth birthday," Hogrefe said, appearing to fight back tears. "We had a good idea of a target location to look for the child."
Investigators said it’s too soon to tell if the remains belong to Abdul-ghani.
Authorities in Clayton County said Tuesday that they are hoping for the best.
“Of course, we are hoping the body that was found on the compound is not the missing child we have here in Clayton County,” said Maj. Craig Hammer, with the Clayton County Police Department.
Investigators said they have reason to believe the boy was at the compound within the last several weeks.
Property owner Jason Badger said he and his wife, Tanya, had pressed authorities to remove the group that he said had built the compound on his acreage instead of a neighboring tract owned by Lucas Morton, one of the men arrested during the raid.
“We pulled up and noticed there were people on our land,” Jason Badger said. "I started to try and kick them off about three months ago and everything I tried to do kept getting knocked down."
Tanya Badger said the boy’s father wanted to live in solitude.
“He said they were from Georgia and they were tired of the city,” she said. “The kids were just kind of running around. We saw maybe five or six of them. We saw the little boy clinging to Sirajj and it was getting kind of cold, so some of them were in jackets. But they were just in the dirt.”
The women, believed to be mothers of some of the children, have been identified as 35-year-old Jany Leveille, 38-year-old Hujrah Wahhaj, and 35-year-old Subhannah Wahhaj.
As for Abdul-ghani’s mother, Clayton County authorities say she’s rightfully distraught.
“Several months have passed. So, of course, she's holding out hope that her son is still alive,” Hammer said. “It's a very strange case and we don't have all the answers. And I don't know if we'll have all the answers.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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