Tip leads to discovery of 11 starving kids in New Mexico trailer

Geraldine Edwards
August 8, 2018

Hogrefe said 39-year-old Siraj Wahhaj was jailed on a Georgia warrant alleging child abduction and that Lucas Morten was arrested on suspicion of harboring a fugitive.

A warrant for a Georgia man arrested August 3 at a remote Northern New Mexico compound for allegedly abducting his disabled 3-year-old son indicates the father believed the child was "possessed by the devil" and "wanted to perform an exorcism on him".

Two adult men and three women were initially arrested after police raided the compound Thursday, but the women - believed to be the mothers of the children - were later released.

Sheriff Hogrefe said the adults and children - ages 1 to 15 - had no shoes, wore dirty rags for clothing and "looked like Third World country refugees".

The child's mother told authorities that Siraj Wahhaj "wanted to perform an exorcism on said child because he believes the child is possessed by the devil", stated the warrant, which was issued on January 9, 2018.

The operation arose out of a police investigation to find Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, then three, who had been reported missing by his mother in Georgia.

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Law enforcement said they found only a few potatoes and a box of rice on the grounds.

The mother said her son left to go to the park with his father, Siraj Wahhaj, on November 30.

The sheriff described planning "a tactical approach for our own safety because we had learned the occupants were most likely heavily armed". Just past the crude "no trespassing" sign, the officers found 16 people - including 11 children - living in squalid conditions.

The three women were also arrested over the weekend, and all five adults have been charged with 11 counts of child abuse, third-degree felonies, for allegedly exposing the children to unsafe conditions at the compound.

The 11 children have been turned over to state child services. Three women believed to be mothers of the 11 children were also detained for questioning.

The discovery was prompted by a months-long search for a three-year-old child, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, who went missing in Atlanta, Georgia, in November.

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Police had been looking for a toddler missing from the USA state of Georgia when they received a message through an investigator which warned that those in the compound were "starving and need food and water".

Both Wahhaj and Morten were taken into custody, but Abdul-GhaniWahhaj has still not been located.

Police did not say how they tracked down Wahhaj and the others in Amalia, an unincorporated community in mountainous Taos County along New Mexico's northern border.

Wahhaj and another man, identified as Lucas Morten, were the two adults at the compound who appeared in charge.

The FBI didn't believe there was enough probable cause to raid the surveillance until Friday when a Georgia detective received a message believed to be from someone on the compound, stating they were starving.

"We all gave the kids our water and what snacks we had", Hogrefe said.

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The young boy who was allegedly kidnapped by Siraj Wahhaj was not one of the 11 children found on Sunday.

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