Before the rescue, there was reportedly a standoff between police officers and one of the arrested men, who was armed. Eventually, police officers placed the suspect under arrest without incident.
Officers with the Taos County Sheriff’s Department went on to find four handguns with numerous rounds of ammunition after removing the men from what was described as a “compound.” One of the suspects was armed with a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle.
The men arrested in conjunction with the crime have been identified as Lucas Morten and Siraj Wahhaj.
According to a report by ABC News, authorities were originally searching for a missing 3-year-old boy, but they did not find him at the remote compound. However, what they did find was even more difficult for most people to fathom.
In all, 11 children were found being kept in deplorable conditions, provided no water, virtually no food, and they were barely dressed, according to Sherriff Jerry Hogrefe. The sheriff likened the appearance of the children to refugees from impoverished or war-torn countries.
“The only food we saw were a few potatoes and a box of rice in the filthy trailer. 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.”
The children’s age ranged from 1-year-old all the way up to age 15-years-old.
— The Boston Globe (@BostonGlobe) August 5, 2018
Authorities are also investigating the roles of three women present during the raid. Police believe they were the mothers of the rescued children. At this time, authorities have not arrested these women, though they were temporarily detained.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) August 5, 2018
Officers stated that the children were turned over to New Mexico’s Children Youth and Families Departments after arresting the suspects without incident.
The FBI reportedly surveilled the desert compound long before the raid, but officers were only able to descend upon the dwelling after receiving a warrant. The warrant could not be obtained until it was eventually sparked by a note sent from inside the compound, which ultimately reached a Georgia detective reading “We are starving and need food and water.”
Who delivered that note and exactly how it got there was unclear.
The scene at the compound was described as something reminiscent of a horror film and included a trailer that had been completely buried underground covered up with tarps. The dwelling had no running water or electricity and was described by Sheriff Hogrefe as “the saddest living conditions and poverty [he has] seen.”