FLDS girls rescued from Arizona cult leader found on the run, hiding in Washington

SPOKANE, WA (3TV/CBS 5) — There are disturbing new details about a group of FLDS girls who escaped from Phoenix-area group homes last week and were found by sheriff’s deputies hiding in an Airbnb in Washington State . It all stems from self-proclaimed prophet and former FLDS member Samuel Bateman, who is currently behind bars in Florence, Arizona, for child abuse and destruction of evidence.

New documents now reveal how Bateman was able to coerce these young girls and several wives, even when they were locked up. “There are always these guys out there who are ready to pounce and ready to attack,” Arizona’s Family special correspondent Mike Watkiss said.

Watkiss reported on Warren Jeffs, who was convicted of sexually assaulting underage girls he took as wives into his cult, with allegations of numerous other illegal marriages and sexual abuse. While Jeffs is serving his life sentence, documents show Bateman started his own branch of the religion, with around 50 followers and more than 20 wives.

According to federal documents, from May 2020 to November 2021, Bateman and his co-conspirators flew these girls from Nebraska to Arizona to Utah and Nevada for sex acts, many of them underage. Prior to her arrest near Flagstaff earlier this year as she drove them through a dirty trailer, her daughter told authorities her father had said ‘He would do what a boy does to get him to have a baby’ . Another of the rescued girls admitted to being present and naked for a sex orgy with Bateman and many other girls.

But even with Bateman in Florence jail, authorities discovered he had video calls with some of his wives recently. Just days ago, they showed Bateman the girls from the group home in a car and then in a hotel room.

Authorities received tips and were able to track a credit card used by one of the wives to an Airbnb in Spokane, Wash., where they found Bateman’s 19-year-old wife, Moretta Rose Johnson, with the eight missing girls. “Sam is now a martyr for his little cult, his little offshoot,” Watkiss said.

Watkiss said around this time last year he got a call from Bateman, who insisted he meet Watkiss in Phoenix. “I agreed to meet him in a park, and I didn’t know what was going to happen. And it was shocking,” Watkiss said.

Dozens of FLDS women walked out of the park. “He asked his family to sing us songs, beautiful choral arrangements. These women and girls were singing songs to me in a park in Phoenix in their pastel dresses, it was an unusual scene,” Watkiss said. It matches a bizarre experience described in court documents, showing at one point the girls sang to Bateman during a jail call earlier this year and told him they loved him.

Watkiss reported his experience to the FBI, suspecting Bateman could harm these girls, who even a year later still seem to be under his control. “How do you get people to stop following crazy, complacent cult leaders? And I don’t have the answer,” Watkiss said.

Johnson, Bateman’s wife and the teenager found with the girls in Washington, has been arrested and will be returned to Arizona. Two other women have also been arrested for their involvement and Bateman remains in jail on his previous charges.

At this time, the FBI has not revealed what happened to the girls or where they were placed after being found at Airbnb.

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