Teen-Age Girl Flees Polygamous Family But Is Sent Back

ST. GEORGE, -- A 15-year-old girl who ran away from her polygamous family, saying they planned to force her into an arranged marriage, was returned to her family Thursday by Washington County author- ities.

People who helped the girl run away said her family told her they had planned her marriage to Warren Jeffs, the No. 2 leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the son of its top leader, Rulon Jeffs. The sect is based in the border communities of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah.

Activists and sympathetic family members contacted state and county officials to arrange protective custody.

"We had offered [to] the Sheriff's Department that we would provide shelter and were waiting to hear whether they were going to provide shelter, and we never heard from them," Janina Chilton of the Utah Department of Human Services told KSL-TV. "We just found out the girl had been released back to her family, so we will certainly start an investigation at this point."

The Sheriff's Department released the girl to her family after members promised to let her make her own marriage choices and live with relatives outside the polygamist group. Anti-polygamy activists were not happy with the decision.

"I think the state made a big mistake. This 15-year-old girl has mustered a great amount of courage to do what she did, only to find out that child protective services would not even interview her," said Doug White, an attorney for the group Tapestry Against Polygamy.

The teen was on vacation in Salt Lake City last week and did not want to return to Colorado City. She stayed with a cousin who contacted Hurricane resident Jay Beswick, an advocate with the child-abuse prevention organization For Kids' Sake, and St. George resident Les Zitting, who is trying to start a support group for those who want to leave the FLDS Church.

The teen stayed with Beswick and then Zitting from Monday until Wednesday.

Washington County Deputy Sheriff Kurt Wright arranged a meeting with Zitting, the teen, the teen's parents and Sheriff Kirk Smith.

The parents agreed to let the girl stay with an uncle who has left the FLDS Church. Smith and Wright said because the girl is a minor, the parents have the right to decide where their daughter lives.