Former members of the fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe their children were abducted by Mormons in a twisted way to fulfill the prophecy of their kidnapped leader.
The four mothers, Lauren Jessop, Miranda Johnson, Elizabeth Roundy and Sara Johnson, believe that their eight missing children did not run away, as court records show, but were actually hidden by their former church.
The FLDS is a polygamist branch of Mormonism best known for its prophet, Warren Jeffs, who is currently serving life in prison for sexually abusing 12-year-old girls.
Jeffs remains a church leader and is making prophecies from behind bars, experts claim.
In a prediction made last June, and seen by ABC News, Jeffs called for the children of former members to return to the fold.
Law enforcement officials said they believe the children ran away. Although they are listed as missing in a national database, no criminal charges have been filed in connection with their disappearance.
Lauren Jessop, whose three youngest children have been missing since February 2023, told the ABC she believed ‘church authorities’ had taken her children.
FLDS leader: Warren is currently serving life in prison for sexually abusing girls as young as 12
Lauren Jessop, whose three young children, Nathan, 16, Summer, 13, and Benjamin, 12, have been missing since February 2023 told the ABC she believes ‘church authorities’ took her children.
‘I checked on them in the middle of the night,’ Jessop, 42, said of the night her children disappeared, ‘and my daughter was awake. And I thought, “That’s weird.”
‘At 5am, I woke up in a cold room because the front door was open and the kids were gone,’ Jessop said. ‘It was horrible.’
“I think either somebody took it upon themselves or the church authorities asked to gather these children,” Jessop told ABC’s Nightline.
Another mother, Elizabeth Roundy, 49, alleged that her children were also taken over by the church.
Roundy’s daughter Elintra ran away in January 2023, but Roundy alleged that the church told her how to run away.
‘I’m positive the FLDS is hiding Elintra,’ Roundy said.
A former member’s missing child, a girl aged just 10, was found last year and returned to her parents.
Four of the eight missing children’s mothers claim their former church took them
Former member Lauren Jessup’s youngest children, Nathan, Summer and Benjamin, have been missing since February 2023.
Lauren Jessop’s son Nathan, 16, has been missing since February 2023
13-year-old Summer Barlow is also missing. His mother believed he had been taken by the church
Polygamist groups view women as second class and claim that they are subservient to men
Another mother, Elizabeth Roundy, 49, alleged that her children were also taken by the church.
Convicted pedophile Jeffs remains church leader and prophesies from behind bars, experts claim
Jeffs, now 67, remains the leader of the group and is said to be freeing the prophecies from prison
Warren Jeffs’ nephew, Heber Jeffs, was charged last December with kidnapping his 10-year-old niece, whose parents had left the FLDS.
Heber followed his uncle’s prophecies and instructions, including the return of former members’ children, charging documents allege.
When a member leaves the FLDS the community labels them as ‘apostates’.
‘When you leave, you’re considered an apostate, and treated harshly by people in the church,’ explained Roger Hull, an attorney who represents some of these mothers.
‘It’s often a long process before someone leaves, and then it’s a long process before they’re able to make a real adjustment mentally. It’s not an overnight thing.’
Mothers told ABC News that the renegade label scares their children and encourages them to run away.
‘Our concern is, how do they escape on their own?’ Hull said.
‘Are they being helped? Are we seeing a pattern here?’
Women in the church are treated as second class and expected to be subordinate to men.
‘Growing up, it was our intention … to get married,’ said Sarah Johnson, whose son Salome has been missing since March 2021.
‘I decided early on that I was going to be the most obedient, most perfect wife.’
She says she got married at the age of 17 to a man 25 years her senior. One of his four sister-wives was his biological sister and between them they had more than 30 children.
The FLDS was founded more than 130 years ago after polygamy was banned in the Mormon Church.
According to experts, its current prophet, Warren Jeffs, is a 67-year-old convicted pedophile who had about 80 wives, many of them minors.
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