SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Two Utah men, one a self-styled prophet, were under arrest Tuesday after a search near a remote, makeshift compound turned up four girls whose fathers were in an upstart group with beliefs in polygamy and doomsday, police and relatives said.
Police said two of the girls were considered to be kidnapping victims after their father dropped off the grid with them and their two brothers in mid-September.
The four girls aged 4 through 8 were found cold and dehydrated but uninjured, two in 50-gallon water barrels and two others were in an abandoned mobile home, after deputies combed the desert on Monday, Iron County Sheriff's Lt. Del Schlosser said. The boys were found at the compound earlier Monday.
John Coltharp, 33, disappeared with his two daughters and two sons in mid-September after meeting Samuel Shaffer, 34, who also had two daughters, police said. They called themselves the Knights of The Crystal Blade.
The disappearance touched off a desperate search by Coltharp's ex-wife that culminated in an Amber Alert for the two girls and the arrests of both men on suspicion of kidnapping and other charges. Coltharp had not been formally charged on Tuesday, and no attorney or publicly listed phone numbers were immediately available for him.
Shaffer, described as a self-styled prophet, was charged Tuesday with child kidnapping and other counts. He did not yet have an attorney listed in the court documents.
His brother, Benjamin Shaffer, said his family has been traumatized by the revelations. He said Samuel Shaffer was not a polygamist or part of an established group and questioned the characterization of the area compound.
Coltharp had always been interested in arcane Mormon teachings, but his interest in polygamy and "prepping" for doomsday had intensified in recent years, his brother-in-law Michael Lee said. The mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints disavowed polygamy more than a century ago.
He and Shaffer met online and grew close, eventually forming the Knights of The Crystal Blade as fraternal order, Lee said.
Coltharp and his wife Micha had been married about 10 years and shared four children, but the marriage was breaking up. They considered themselves separated but still lived together when he quit his job and moved with the children to his parents' home in May, Lee said.
They shared an informal custody arrangement until mid-September, when Coltharp told her she should "give up being a mother," then cut off all communication, Lee said.
The family believed the two men had decamped 200 miles south to a remote area near Cedar City where they might meet other people with similar beliefs or convince others to join them as Coltharp's parents had, Lee said.
Micha Coltharp started the process of getting a divorce and sole custody of the children, but as weeks passed there remained few clues about exactly where the children were.
Then, on Dec. 1, her ex-husband turned up at his parents' home.
He was confronted by police, but refused to say where the children were even after he was arrested. Shaffer was with him, but police didn't have anything to charge him with and let him go.
With Coltharp in custody but the children still missing, the search intensified and went public.
On Monday, police got a tip and raided the makeshift compound made out of storage containers. They found the two boys, ages 5 and 6, but Shaffer had already fled with the two Coltharp girls and his own daughters, according to jail arrest documents.
Shaffer was found that afternoon, walking down a road alone but the four girls remained missing.
He told police two girls had been placed in the water barrels to hide them from police. When they were found Monday, they'd been there for 24 hours in below-freezing temperatures they were not dressed for, police said.
The other two girls were found in a mobile home with signs of dehydration.
All four were taken to a local hospital for treatment. All but one had been released by Tuesday. Her condition was not immediately available.