NEW MEXICO — Searchers found the remains of a boy after raiding a makeshift compound last week in search of a missing Georgia child, authorities said Tuesday.
The remains were found Monday during a search in Amalia, near the Colorado border. Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said. Authorities were awaiting positive identification of the remains.
The search for Abdul-ghani of Georgia led authorities Friday to the squalid compound where they found Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, the father of the missing boy, along with four other adults and 11 children living in filthy conditions.
“We discovered the remains yesterday on Abdul’s fourth birthday,” Hogrefe said, appearing to fight back tears.
The sheriff said authorities returned to the compound after interviews Friday and Saturday led them to believe the boy might still be on the property.
“We had a good idea of a target location to look for the child,” he said
The father of the boy has been accused of leaving Georgia in December with his then 3-year-old son.
Wahhaj was expected to appear in court Wednesday on a previous warrant from Georgia that seeks his extradition to face a charge of abducting his son from that state last December.
According to the extradition warrant, Wahhaj told the boy’s mother that he wanted to perform an exorcism on the child, who suffered from seizures, because he believed the 3-year-old was possessed by the devil. The mother told police that Wahhaj took the boy for a trip to a park and never returned.
Abdul-ghani was believed to have been at the Amalia compound as recently as several weeks ago, Hogrefe has said.
The warrant said the boy suffered from severe medical issues including hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, a defect caused by lack of oxygen and blood flow around the time of birth.
The boy’s mother said the boy can’t walk and requires constant attention.
Property owner Jason Badger said he and his wife had pressed authorities to remove the group from the makeshift compound on his land.
However, it took a plea for help and the search for the missing boy to finally draw sheriff’s deputies to the desolate site that was walled off by stacks of old tires, wooden pallets and other debris.
Badger said he had concerns about the compound near the Colorado border. But he says the courts and other authorities shot down his attempts to break up the encampment — described as a trailer buried in the ground.
Court records show a judge dismissed an eviction notice filed by Badger against Lucas Morton in June. The records didn’t provide further details on the judge’s decision.
Morton was among the five adults arrested after the raid.
The adults, including the missing boy’s father, have been charged with child abuse.
Children ages 1 to 15 were rescued from the compound that had been under investigation for months.
Hogrefe said FBI agents had surveilled the area a few weeks ago but did not find probable cause to search the property. An FBI spokesman didn’t immediately return a call by The Associated Press seeking comment.
Authorities staged a raid after someone believed to have been in the compound sent out a message for help that said: “We are starving and need food and water.”
It wasn’t clear who sent the message or how it was communicated. Georgia detectives forwarded the message to the Taos County Sheriff’s Office.
Wahhaj was armed with several guns, including a loaded AR-15 assault rifle, when he was taken into custody without incident at the compound, the sheriff said.
Morton was taken into custody on suspicion of harboring a fugitive.
Tyler Anderson, who lives near the compound, believes the group had moved to the area to live off the grid, just as he had done.
Anderson said he had helped the newcomers install solar panels after they arrived in December. But he eventually stopped visiting the compound.
Anderson said the children found inside the compound at first played at neighboring properties but stopped in recent months.
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.
Jail booking photos show them wearing traditional Muslim veils or hijabs. It wasn’t clear whether they had retained attorneys.
The public defender’s office in Taos County did not immediately return a telephone message from The Associated Press seeking comment.