PHOENIX (AP) — Authorities are investigating after an explosion tore apart a pickup truck on a northern Arizona farm just outside of an isolated community along the Utah border where polygamy is practiced openly.
No one was injured in the recent blast near Colorado City, but Shane Stubbs, who used the vehicle for farm work, suspects it was part of ongoing harassment he says his family has faced since leaving the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a religious sect connected to imprisoned former leader Warren Jeffs.
"I don't know if it's FLDS trying to get back at us in some way or just kids monkeying around," Stubbs said Friday. "I'm thinking it's one of those two things."
Efforts to reach church leaders for comment were unsuccessful. The sect broke away from the mainstream Mormon Church when it disavowed polygamy more than 100 years ago.
Mohave County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Trish Carter declined to comment about a motive or a connection to FLDS. Authorities have not identified any suspects and have no witnesses.
Experts from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives examined the blast and determined it wasn't a homemade device, such as a pipe bomb. Instead, they suspect it was a commercial explosive, such as dynamite, ATF spokesman Tom Mangan said.
The explosion tore a hole through the vehicle's grille and blew off sheets of metal that had been part of the hood, said Andrew Chatwin, who lives in the area. The pieces of the hood of the truck were 100 feet away from the truck, he said.
"It looks like somebody put a stick of dynamite right between the motor and the radiator and closed the hood," said Chatwin, who left the FLDS nearly two decades ago.
The vehicle had been parked for several days before the explosion, authorities said.
The blast was reported Monday, but it's believed to have occurred over the weekend.
The Mohave County Sheriff's Office has led the investigation with help from ATF for its expertise in explosives.
Area residents who aren't members of the FLDS have told authorities they have been targets of discrimination.
A family that sued Colorado City and the neighboring Utah community of Hildale over a denied household water connection claimed the denial was made for religious reasons. The case was settled this year for an undisclosed amount after an Arizona jury awarded the family $5.2 million on its claims.
In a separate lawsuit, the U.S. Justice Department has alleged the border towns have supported a campaign of intimidation against those outside of the FLDS, denying them housing and municipal services. Attorneys for the towns have denied wrongdoing.
Stubbs said some of his family's problems come from an ongoing land dispute. He said part of his wheat and alfalfa farm belongs to a trust fund that used to be run by the FLDS but has been in control of state of Utah for nearly a decade.
The family leases the land from the court-appointed accountant who oversees $100 million in homes and property in the border communities in the trust, Stubbs said. The truck was sitting on this disputed section with a flat tire that hadn't been repaired, he said.
"They've caused us all kinds of problems," Stubbs said. "They plowed up our wheat. They've run the cows and their sheep on their field."
Jeffs is serving a life sentence in Texas after convictions on child sex and bigamy charges. Former FLDS members who live in the community and have family members who remain followers say he maintains control of the group from behind bars.
Attorneys who have represented the FLDS in legal matters have said the church hasn't had a spokesperson in years. The church has no listed headquarters, and members are instructed not to speak with outsiders.
Samples taken from the blast have been sent to an ATF lab for a forensic analysis. Meanwhile, the bureau has asked people living nearby who have federal licenses to possess, sell and use explosives to examine their supplies to make sure nothing is missing. Commercial explosives are used in mining and ranching operations.