Eleven children, who range in age from 1 to 15, were taken into protective custody after police raided a compound in rural Amalia, New Mexico on Friday. Two men from Georgia were arrested and three women, believed to be mothers of some of the children, were temporarily detained.
Police raided the compound in an attempt to locate a missing 3-year-old boy named Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, according to the Taos County Sheriff’s Office. Police believe Siraj Wahhaj, 39, had something to do with the boy’s abduction. Wahhaj was one of the two men arrested in Friday’s raid. The toddler was not found at the compound, but police said they believe he was there at some point. Abdul-Ghani is Wahhaj’s son, according to 11ALIVE in Atlanta, Georgia. The child has been missing since December.
Police in New Mexico were contacted by a Georgia detective who told them that someone at the compound reached out stating they were starving and needed food and water.
The authorities may not have located Abdul-Ghani on Friday, but they did find 11 other children at the location, which police have called both a makeshift residence and a compound. Police said it was a small travel trailer which had been buried into the ground. The trailer was covered with plastic and there was reportedly no water, electricity or plumbing at the home. Amalia is in a desert, located near the Colorado border.
“The only food We saw were a few potatoes and a box of rice in the filthy trailer,” Taos County Sheriff Jerry 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.”
Police said Wahhaj was heavily armed with an AR15 rifle, five loaded 30 round magazines, and four loaded pistols. Both he and Lucas Morten, whose age has not been released, were arrested. Morten was charged with harboring a fugitive and Wahhaj was charged with child abduction. He was booked on a no-bond Georgia warrant.
The children have been turned over to New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department. Three women were detained on Saturday but have since been released, according to the Associated Press. Their names have not been released. They are now in protective services along with their children.
Friday’s raid came after a two-month collaborative investigation between Clayton County, Georgia police and FBI investigators.
“We all gave the kids our water and what snacks we had," Hogrefe said in a police press release. "It was the saddest living conditions and poverty I have seen.”
[Photos: Taos County Sheriff’s Office]