YFZ A decade later: Are the children still free?

Brenda Nicholson


Ten years ago, my life was very different than it is today. 

Ten years ago, I was going through some of the worst times of my life, and things went downhill from there as the requirements and consequences grew increasingly more severe. 

As a people, we had been enduring the loss of family members for a few years by now. Men were disappearing. Some had been publicly shamed and cast out; others we hoped had been “called on a mission” and had gone to “better places.” Even children had their names called; whispered to the prophet as “worthy.” 

Marriages were performed in secrecy, the participants sworn to silence. 

Families, having lost their patriarchs, were divided and reassigned. Increasing pressure was being placed on the town, and people were moved under the cover of darkness, (in willful defiance of the agreement with the fiduciary.) There was an atmosphere of deep secrecy and doing whatever was necessary to protect the church.

Some businesses changed hands as men were sent away and convinced to surrender their company to other, “faithful” members. Some businesses – including Western Precision – moved out of town. Customers and vendors were fed lies in an effort to allay their concerns. “Truth” took on a different definition. 

Western Precision became NewEra when it was relocated to Las Vegas. 

Through all this upheaval my fears grew. As I watched the drastic changes taking place all around me, my prayers took on new fervency. I continued to plead with Heavenly Father that our family would be worthy to “go to Zion,” but I added to that plea: asking that our family might be able to stay together and qualify as an unbroken unit. 

If anyone had tried to tell me that the day would come when I would pray to be worthy to move to Las Vegas, I never would have believed them. Yet, that was the strange position I found myself in. The men who worked at Western Precision were now traveling to Vegas for the week, and coming home on the weekends. Uncle Warren Jeffs had sent word that the Lord had turned his back on Short Creek, and removed his hedge of protection from around it. It was unsettling to be aware that there were very few men left in town. Just thousands of vulnerable women and children – left in a cursed place. 

My prayers were answered! Or that’s how I saw it at the time. Our family was directed to move to Las Vegas, and I was grateful our family was together and out of Short Creek. It may not have been “Zion” but it could have been worse.

I learned about the existence of the YFZ Ranch when I was told about the raid. My youngest baby was eight months old. I will never forget the emotional torment of watching the videos where children were being taken from their mothers. After months of praying to be worthy to go to “Zion,” I was now secretly grateful we hadn’t been called. I held my babies closer and prayed with all my heart and soul that the children would be delivered “from the hands of our enemies.”

During these trying days, Seth Jeffs voiced their plan to use the media to “pull at the heartstrings of the world, and get them on our side.” Sure enough, before long homemade videos with contrasting images of smiling children – taken before the raid – with weeping children, currently held prisoner – were being shared among the people and around the world like wildfire. 

Words cannot describe the excruciating turmoil of my heart through this. Why did Heavenly Father allow the gentiles to take our children?! Thoughts of the moral and spiritual destruction of these, the purest of the pure, left me feeling desperate. 

One video that was produced and published was especially heart-wrenching for me to watch.“Meant to Be.” The words expressed the feelings of my soul and I fervently prayed those words, pleading with God to hear them and free our children. I highly suggest that you take a few minutes to watch it. 

468 children, torn from the arms of their mothers! But wait, were they? How long had they been away from their mothers before the raid ever happened?

It wasn’t until after I fled the FLDS that I came to know the truth: that many of the children involved in the raid hadn’t been with their mothers for a long time. They had already been “looking for their mothers” long before Texas authorities attempted to rescue them. Biological parents received frantic phone calls and were told to rush to Texas to try to claim their children. 

I understand that the phone call that acted as a catalyst to this event wasn’t accurate, but anyone who claims that abuses weren’t happening doesn’t understand the truth. Pointing fingers to Rozita Swinton is often done as a method of deflecting attention from the real criminals – the leaders of the FLDS. 

Those 468 children were ordered returned to their “parents” after just two months separation. I’m not trying to minimize the trauma that was experienced during that time, but please, take a few minutes and hear me out. 

Fast forward 10 years to today. 

Today, there are currently hundreds – if not thousands – of children who are not living with their biological parents. Some have been passed around between “caretakers,” their ownership was transferred so many times they probably have lost count. Many likely don’t remember who their parents are – they were so young when they were taken, and a lot of time has passed. Who tore these children from the arms of their mothers? Was it the “evil” government? No. It was Warren Jeffs, aided by his cronies who are just as cruel as he is. 

My belief is that the current separation of children from their parents is far more psychologically damaging than anything those 468 children endured during the raid. Not just because of the longer duration. Even if it had been limited to two months – like the raid – the damage is worse. We fervently prayed for God to destroy “our enemies” and deliver our children: the victims in the raid had an enemy, somewhere to place their pain. They could find solace in trusting that their God would deliver them. 

What do they have now? It wasn’t armed men who separated mothers from children. Mothers “willingly” handed their children over, by command of God. All were told to rejoice in “God’s will.” 

You can’t pray for deliverance from God’s will. 

God is the one who sent your father away forever. God is the one who judged your mother, or you, unworthy and severed your bond and ties. Who can you turn to in your anguish, your loneliness, your pain, when God is the author of all your greatest sorrow? No one. 

I’ve heard stories of children who wept, non-stop, crying for their mothers after they were separated by the church leaders. Only to be told that they should be grateful that they were found worthy. That they should just keep praying that their mother would repent – if she hadn’t been sent away forever. 

I’ve heard too many stories of children being turned against their parents. Told their dearly-loved parents are evil and that being with their mother would damn them. 

I’ve heard too many stories of bullying and abuse. Overwhelmed mothers who are worried about the welfare of their own children who have been taken from them, unable to love and care for the “orphans” placed in their care. It’s not surprising. Everyone is hurting. And hurt people hurt people. 

Yet if you ask them about it, they have been instructed to lie. 

There were interviews at the time of the raid where women were placed in front of cameras – and they lied. But they knew they had to. Protecting the church and the men is first priority. They lied about underage marriages. They lied about abuse. They were required to turn traitor to their own existence and desires in order to keep their standing in the church. Their very salvation depended on it. 

Nate Carlisle published an article in the Salt Lake Tribune, reporting his interviews with some of the children who were involved in that raid. In this article some of what I have been saying for so long is confirmed: children who didn’t know who their own mother was. Children being taught to act for the cameras and lie. 

SaraBelle reports this: “I had a phone hid. … I made a few phone calls to Father and then the phone died.

We were coached to cry and say we wanted to go home. They especially coached the younger children to do that.

“Some of the girls were younger than me and they had babies, but they didn’t bring babies with them. All of a sudden, in one room, police brought a baby and asked the mother if that was her child. The mother denied it.”

I had been told that when the judge ordered the children returned, some pleaded to not be sent back. They were happier in foster care. This was confirmed as well. 

When asked how it was to be in foster care, Rulon reports this: 

Oh, it was heaven. It was heaven for us, because they had bicycles. They had toys. They had everything that we got rid of down on the Texas Ranch, so we literally had everything a kid could want on that place. At least for me, I got to ride my bike. There was toys. There was swings. I remember, there was always something to do. It was just heaven. I didn’t have to work. I didn’t have to listen to all these people. For me, it was like, ‘Wow, this is awesome.’”

RuLeecia: “I remember [my biological mother] walking in and I just was like ‘Heck.’ They told me it was my mom and I was like ‘No way’ because I had always thought another…Ester, that was her name…she was my mom. That’s what they told me. But yeah, I remember. She came and gave me a hug and I was just like ‘Who is this woman?’”

Take a moment and imagine what it would feel like to finally see your own child and have them not know who you were? All because church leaders used “God said” as a weapon to destroy families.

Children who found foster care more appealing – like heaven – compared to their lives at the ranch.

Children, having been traded off to other men, giving birth to babies, and being told to lie about it.

The damage being done is astronomical.

Willie Jessop is putting together an event to talk about this raid tomorrow in Short Creek. He played a huge part in standing before cameras, denying abuse and calling for children to be returned. I have one big question for him today: 

Why aren’t you crying for the return of many hundreds of children now? You know what kind of men follow Warren Jeffs, and you know what they are capable of. Who will fight to get those children back into the arms of their mothers?

I am doing all that I know how to bring awareness to what’s happening. I wish “outsiders” could truly understand the reality of life for those who are still believing.

What’s still going on now is a far greater travesty than what happened in Texas. It’s been happening for over 10 years. When will it be stopped?