CBSN

Mothers of 11 children found at "filthy" New Mexico compound arrested

TAOS, N.M. — Three women believed to be the mothers of 11 children found hungry and living in a filthy makeshift compound in rural northern New Mexico have been arrested, following the weekend arrests of two men, authorities said Monday. A message that people were starving, believed sent by someone inside the compound, led to the discovery of the children.

A boy last seen in Alabama in December traveling with one of the men who was arrested has not been found.

Taos County, New Mexico, Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said that the women and the two men face charges of child abuse. He identified the women as Jany Leveille, 38-year-old Hujrah Wahhaj and 35-year-old Subhannah Wahha. They were arrested in the town of Taos and booked into jail.

The children ranging in age from 1 to 15 were removed from the compound in the small community of Amalia near the Colorado border and turned over to state child-welfare workers.

Compound Searched-Children Removed

This Fri., Aug. 3, 2018, image shows a compound during an unsuccessful search for a missing 3-year-old boy in Amalia, New Mexico.

Taos County Sheriff's Office via AP

Police are still are looking for AG Wahhaj, reported missing from Georgia's Clayton County, Hogrefe said. The boy's mother told police he left with his father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, for a trip to a park and never returned. The child was 3 at the time.

Siraj Ibn Wahhaj was detained on an outstanding warrant in Georgia alleging child abduction. Lucas Morten was jailed on suspicion of harboring a fugitive, Hogrefe said. It was not clear over the weekend if they had lawyers.

Clayton County police said in a missing persons bulletin that Wahhaj and his son were last seen December 13 in Alabama, traveling with five other children and two adults.

Compound Searched-Children Removed

This Fri., Aug. 3, 2018, image shows a compound during an unsuccessful search for a missing 3-year-old boy in Amalia, New Mexico.

Taos County Sheriff's Office via AP

The search at the compound came amid a two-month investigation in collaboration with Clayton County authorities and the FBI, according to Hogrefe.

He said FBI agents had surveilled the area a few weeks ago but did not find probable cause to search the property.

That changed when Georgia detectives forwarded a message to Hogrefe's office that initially had been sent to a third party, saying: "We are starving and need food and water."

The sheriff said there was reason to believe the message came from someone inside the compound.

What authorities found was what Hogrefe called "the saddest living conditions and poverty" he has seen in 30 years on the job.

"The only food we saw were a few potatoes and a box of rice in the filthy trailer," Hogrefe said, according to Reuters. "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 group appeared to have been living at the compound for a few months. It was unclear how or why they ended up in New Mexico, Hogrefe said.