AMALIA, New Mexico — Two Clayton County men have been taken into custody after authorities in New Mexico served a search warrant on what they are calling a compound, where they said they found women and children malnourished and living in deplorable conditions.
Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said the department swore out a search warrant on the makeshift compound in Amalia, New Mexico on Thursday.
Hogrefe said there was a reason to believe that Lucas Morten and others, including Siraj Wahhaj, 39, were living inside the compound.
Siraj Wahhaj was wanted for the abduction of 3-year-old AG Wahhaj.
The warrant came after a two-month investigation with Clayton County investigators and the FBI.
The Sheriff said the FBI had recently given them information and surveillance video of the compound they didn’t feel there was enough cause to get a warrant for the property.
“That all changed for me when a message was forwarded to us from a Georgia Detective that we reasonably believed came from someone at the compound – the message sent to a third party simply said in part ‘we are starving and need food and water,’” Hogrefe said in a news release. “I absolutely knew that we couldn’t wait on another agency to step up and we had to go check this out as soon as possible, so I began working on a search warrant right after I got that intercepted message – it had to be a search warrant and a tactical approach for our own safety because we had learned the occupants were most likely heavily armed and considered extremist of the Muslim belief. We also knew from the layout of the compound they would have an advantage if we didn’t deploy tactfully and quickly.”
Friday morning, eight members of the Sheriff’s Response Team and four state investigators executed a search warrant of the compound.
The Sheriff said the two men initially refused to follow directions. Hogrefe said Wahhaj was held up inside the compound and was heavily armed with an AR-15 rifle, five loaded 30-round magazines, four loaded pistols, including one in his pocket when he was taken down.
Authorities also found more rounds of ammo inside the compound.
Investigators said the compound consisted of a small travel trailer buried in the ground covered by plastic with no 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.”
Morten and Wahhaj were taken into custody.
However, the missing child from Georgia was not located among the children. Morten was charged with harboring a fugitive and Wahhaj was booked on his no-bond warrant for child abduction out of Georgia.
Three women, believed to be children’s mothers, were detained for questioning and later released pending further investigation.
The 11 children, ranging in ages from 1 to 15, were taken into protective custody.
“We all gave the kids our water and what snacks we had – it was the saddest living conditions and poverty I have seen,” Hogrefe said.
None of the adults would give a statement to the whereabouts of 3-year-old AG Wahhaj, but it is believed he was at the compound a few weeks ago.
His mother said AG Wahhaj suffers from seizures, developmental and cognitive delays and is unable to walk due to suffering a Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) at birth.
© 2020 Cox Media Group