Eleven children were rescued Saturday from squalid living conditions with little food and no water in a remote New Mexico compound, the Associated Press reports.
“It was the saddest living conditions and poverty I have seen,” Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said.
Five adults – two men and three women – were accompanying the children. Hogrefe said all of them looked like “refugees not only with no food or fresh water, but with no shoes, personal hygiene and basically dirty rags for clothing.”
“We all gave the kids our water and what snacks we had,” he added.
Authorities discovered the children while searching for a missing 3-year-old boy, who still hasn’t been located.
A child-welfare agency took custody of the children, who ranged in age from 1 to 15.
Police arrested the two men and initially detained the women, but the women were later released.
One of the men has been identified as Siraj Wahhaj, 39, who was reportedly wanted on a Georgia warrant for alleged child abduction.
The other man, Lucas Morten, is facing a charge of suspicion of harboring a fugitive.
Multiple law enforcement agencies were involved in the investigation and subsequent search, including the FBI, Taos County Sheriff’s Office and police in Clayton County, Georgia, according to the Associated Press report.
Investigators had been conducting surveillance of the compound in Amalia, New Mexico, which is 145 miles northeast of Albuquerque near the border of New Mexico and Colorado.
Hogrefe said police got a search warrant after learning that someone at the compound reported people were starving there and in need of water.
While the missing 3-year-old boy was not found, police believe he may have been there recently. It was not immediately clear whether the child, whose name is AG Wahhaj, is related to Siraj Wahhaj, who was arrested in the raid.
Wahhaj and Morten initially did not follow police commands, and Wahhaj had a rifle and multiple handguns, but there were no injuries during the search.
The compound was a travel trailer buried in the ground and covered with plastic. It had no electricity, plumbing or water and little to eat.
“The only food we saw were a few potatoes and a box of rice in the filthy trailer,” Hogrefe said.
[Feature image: Taos County Sheriff’s Office]