Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said unidentified remains had been found Monday (Aug. 6) at a remote compound in Northern New Mexico where two men had been arrested and 11 children taken into …
Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said the remains of a 'young boy' were found Monday (Aug. 6) at a remote compound in Northern New Mexico where five adults were arrested and 11 children were taken into protective custody last week.
A toddler, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, 4, who is thought to have been living at the compound, remains missing.
The 11 other children, ranging in age from 1 to 15-years-old, are currently in the custody of the New Mexico Children Youth and Families Division.
Hogrefe told reporters and residents gathered at the Taos County Commission chambers Tuesday (Aug. 7) his office is waiting for the New Mexico Office of the Medical Examiner to identify the remains.
All five adults who had lived at the compound, including the missing child's father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, have been charged with 11 counts of child abuse, third-degree felonies. Wahhaj also faces an abduction charge for allegedly kidnapping the child from his Georgia home last year. A warrant was issued in Georgia for Wahhaj's arrest on Jan. 9.
In an interview with The Taos News, Jason Badger, the owner of the Amalia property where the group arrived and began building early this year, said he had seen the missing boy on the property more than once.
"That was back in end of January or February," he said, and added that while he also saw the 11 other children, he never saw the three women whom law enforcement said also lived at the makeshift dwelling.
Badger explained that a dispute regarding the alleged squatters began in January, but once he learned children were living at the property, he attempted to find an amicable solution.
"I didn't want to just kick them out," Badger said.
He proposed the group "swap" the property for land Badger said the group had purchased not far away from his home in Northern New Mexico.
After the men refused, Badger filed a complaint in Taos Magistrate Court. He began contacting law enforcement with concerns about what was happening on his land, but said he received no response.
"They never returned phone calls," Badger said. "They never did a damn thing about it."
He said other concerned area residents also began calling law enforcement and urged them to take action.
Badger said the children "clearly were not taken care of," and believes the sheriff should have acted sooner.
But Hogrefe reiterated at the conference Tuesday that he didn't have sufficient probable cause to raid the property until a distress message officials believed came from within the compound was relayed to his office by a detective in Clayon County Georgia last week. Hogrefe said FBI agents and officials from Clayton County Police Department had been working the case for about two months.
Asked about the FBI's role in the operation at the conference, Hogrefe said he "can't speak for another agency." Hogrefe had said Saturday (Aug. 4) that FBI agents had said they also felt there was insufficient probable cause to act earlier.
No one from the FBI spoke at the press conference Tuesday.
In the aftermath of the raid, Badger visited the compound. He said he found a combat shotgun, other weapons that were "locked and loaded," bulletproof vests, "lots of ammo," Go Pro cameras and surveillance cameras.
Underneath his property, he said he also found a "150-foot tunnel," which he speculated might have been intended as an "escape tunnel" or a "place to keep the children."
On Tuesday, Hogrefe and 8th Judicial District Attorney Donald Gallegos said the charges against the defendants may be amended as the investigation moves forward. Gallegos is also considering filing a petition for no bond holds for the defendants, which would keep them incarcerated until trial, but didn't give a definitive answer as of press time.
The two men and three women are being held at the Taos County Adult Detention Center. Arraignments are expected to be finished for all five defendants by end of day Wednesday (Aug. 7), Gallegos said.
Asked whether the two men and three women arrested at the compound offered any information regarding the whereabouts of the boy, Hogrefe said they provided some "limited" information that assisted in the discovery of the set of remains, which appeared to belong to a small child.
Other information was gathered through interviews conducted throughout the weekend, Hogrefe said.
Abdul Wahhaj, who would have turned 4-years-old Monday, was reported missing in December from his Clayton County, Georgia home by his mother, Hakima Ramzi. The child was born with a medical condition that caused seizures. She was worried that the toddler's father had not taken any medication to give to their son. She told police the father believed the boy was "possessed" and wanted to perform an "exorcism" on him.
The family is related to a well-known Muslim imam in Brooklyn, Siraj Wahhaj, who, along with others, had pleaded on Facebook for the little boy's return.
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