Three women believed to be the mothers of 11 hungry children removed from a compound in the New Mexico desert have been arrested, authorities said Monday.
Jany Leveille, 35; Hujrah Wahhaj, 38; and Subhannah Wahhaj, 35, were charged with child abuse related to the alleged neglect and abuse of children, who were found living in “filthy” conditions and with hardly any food, the Taos County Sheriff’s Office said.
The children ranged in age from 1 to 15.
“I believed this would most likely be the path that we would take and stand by my original decision to bring charges after CYFD investigators had an opportunity to conduct their independent investigation, which included interviews and obtaining information such as health and medical needs of the children from the three mothers,” Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said in a statement Sunday.
The women’s arrests come after Siraj Wahhaj and Lucas Morten, the two men on the compound, were taken into custody as deputies strategically stormed the grounds this past weekend.
Authorities were alerted to the alleged conditions the children faced, located in the small community of Amalia near the Colorado border, by a message believed to have been from someone inside the compound.
“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.”
Law enforcement said they found only a few potatoes and a box of rice on the grounds.
“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,” said Hogrefe, who noted it was “the saddest living conditions and poverty I have seen.”
The children found on the grounds were placed in protective custody, officials said.
Not among them was 3-year-old AG Wahhaj, whose mother reported him missing from Georgia’s Clayton County, officials said. The little boy was allegedly taken on a trip by his father, Siraj Wahhaj, and never returned.
Wahhaj has been jailed on suspicion of child abduction and Morten was arrested on suspicion of harboring a fugitive. Police said the adults declined to give statements about the missing child, but he is believed to have been at the compound as recently as a few weeks ago.
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