Police remove 11 kids from 'filthy' New Mexico compound

Police in New Mexico said they discovered 11 malnourished children living in a "filthy" makeshift compound while searching for a missing 3-year-old boy. Officials said the children had no food or water and were living in a small trailer buried in the ground in Amalia.

Taos County Sheriff’s deputies stormed the compound and removed the children, ranging from ages 1 to 15, and turned over to state child-welfare workers. Police were initially at the compound to look for Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj and a 39-year-old man, Siraj Wahhaj, accused of abducting the boy last December. Wahhaj was located on the property and arrested. The child that sparked the initial search was not found.

“We did an extensive search for the missing child, our primary target,” Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said, according to the Albuquerque Journal. “We certainly didn’t want to leave that place and leave a child behind and I’m confident we did not.”

Another man, identified as Lucas Morten, was also taken into custody on suspicion of harboring a fugitive.

Three other women at the compound were also detained, but later released.

Hogrefe said authorities had conducted surveillance of the compound while looking for the missing boy before he decided Thursday to get a search warrant immediately after a Georgia investigator forwarded a message in which someone at the compound reportedly told another person that people at the compound were starving and needed water.

“The message sent to a third party simply said in part, ‘We are starving and need food and water,’ ” Hogrefe said. “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.”

When police arrived at the scene, Wahhaj was armed with an “AR-15 rifle, five loaded 30-round magazines, and four loaded pistols, including one in his pocket,” according to Hogrefe. Wahhaj and Morton refused to cooperate with authorities.

The sheriff described the living conditions as “the ugliest looking, filthiest” he’s ever seen.

“The only food we saw were a few potatoes and a box of rice in the filthy trailer,” Hogrefe said in a news release. “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.”

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