HILDALE – For Hildale resident and former Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints member Ron Rohbock, the road back to Short Creek has not been a smooth one.
In 2014, after a 13-year absence from the border communities of Hildale and neighboring Colorado City, Arizona – known collectively to locals as “Short Creek” — Rohbock regained, through the United Effort Plan Trust, ownership of a Hildale home he and his sons built many years ago and his family lived in when he was a polygamous FLDS member.
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“Basically, I bought the property, paid taxes and other issues levied against the home,” he said.
The Hildale home where Rohbock now lives with his current wife is 10,000 square feet and sits on an acre of land with an orchard. The view from the home is beautiful and serene – but all is not rosy back in his hometown.
“In that year and five months (since moving back to Hildale), we have been harassed and harassed and harassed,” Rohbock said.
A blessing in the long run
Rohbock said he was the first man to be excommunicated from the FLDS church when now-jailed prophet Warren Jeffs came into power. He had seven wives before his excommunication – three of whom were Jeffs’ sisters.
“I took care of around 50 children, but they were not all biological,” Rohbock said.
Rohbock was at one time a bodyguard for Rulon Jeffs, Warren Jeffs’ father and the FLDS prophet who led the church before Warren Jeffs took over its leadership. Rohbock said he helped build Rulon Jeffs’ home.
“The things that were going on in the home – there was a lot of incest, a lot of immorality,” Rohbock said.
As burgeoning corruption within the FLDS leadership became more apparent, including wives being shuffled around to new husbands and underage girls being forced to marry older men, Rohbock said, he began speaking out and was soon labeled as a rebel and an agitator.
“They knew I would not put up with it,” he said. “I would not let any of my daughters get married till 21, let alone 12.”
Warren Jeffs told church members that Rohbock “had followed the spirit of perdition” and was not a good man, Rohbock said.
When Rohbock was evicted from the church, his legal wife chose to stay in the church, keeping his children with her. Rohbock found himself shut out from his family, his religion, his community and the only way of life he had ever known.
At the time, it was devastating, Rohbock said. Now, 14 years later, he is remarried to a non-FLDS woman who is educated, independent and is a retired marriage and family therapist – a far cry from his former brides within the FLDS church, who were indoctrinated from childhood to “keep sweet” and submit to the men in their lives.
What seemed heartbreaking more than two decades ago, Rohbock said, he now sees as a blessing. Excommunication from the church spared him from being involved in things to come for the FLDS, including immoralities committed within the church and the 2008 raid on the Yearning for Zion compound in Texas.
“I consider myself a very fortunate man,” Rohbock said.
Though Rohbock has moved on to a new way of life, many of his children have remained within the confines of the FLDS community.
In the fall of 2014, one of Rohbock’s daughters, 17-year-old Sherylin, was removed from Short Creek by authorities. Though not a legal adult, she had been living alone for two years in a trailer placed on the property of an FLDS member – a disciplinary action handed down by FLDS leaders, Rohbock said.
“She’s a lot like her father, and that’s probably another reason she was punished, ‘cause she’s got a mouth and she uses it,” Rohbock said.
In an email to St. George News, Washington County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Shauna Jones said:
We had received information that the juvenile (Sherilyn) was housed in a trailer against her will and subject to emotional abuse. She was removed with a warrant with the intent of conducting a forensic interview at the Children’s Justice Center pursuant to UCA 62A-4a-414.
Rohbock said Sherylin was only allowed to leave the trailer when she needed to do laundry in the nearby house. She was given one food box per week and, like other FLDS members, only ate one meal per day, in keeping with an edict issued by Warren Jeffs.
After authorities removed Sherylin, she was sent to stay with Rohbock and his wife.
“At the time of her interview, her father was contacted by the detectives to inquire if he was aware of her welfare condition,” Jones said. “He believed she was with her mother. At the conclusion of the interview, the juvenile was given the choice of going into state custody until her mother was located, or going with her father and she chose to go with her father.”
For five days, Rohbock and his wife spent time with the daughter he had been separated from for more than a decade, showing her love, working to gain her trust, and attempting to open her eyes to the world that waited for her outside the confines of the FLDS community.
Rohbock said there was one main message he and his wife strived to get across to Sherilyn during the time they had with her.
“We love her, that she’s welcome at our home any time,” he said. “And that was our agenda.”
With Sherilyn in their custody, the Rohbocks took her where they hoped the “God Squad,” a nickname for the enforcement arm of the FLDS church, wouldn’t be able to track her down.
During the five days Sherilyn was with them, Rohbock’s wife, Geri Rohbock, took the teen shopping for the first clothing she’d ever owned in her life that was not the FLDS-sanctioned prairie dress attire.
“We had so much fun with her. She was just a doll,” Geri Rohbock said.
On the fifth day Sherilyn was with them, the Rohbocks were in Mesquite, Nevada, when Ron Rohbock said a pickup truck pulled up, someone got out of the truck, and the person pulled Sherilyn into the truck and sped off with her. Ron Rohbock happened to be on his cellphone talking to FBI investigators when it happened, he said.
For months, the Rohbocks believed the teen had been kidnapped. Meanwhile, investigators received information that Sherilyn was back with her mother.
“The juvenile and her mother met with the Hildale Marshal’s Office after she was picked up in Nevada to confirm that she had not been kidnapped against her will,” Jones said in the email. “Her mother was unwilling to speak with Sheriff’s investigators.”
Jones said further investigation had not revealed that Sherilyn had suffered any abuse. The trailer where she had been living “was clean, orderly and had fresh food,” she said. Sherilyn also reportedly told authorities that she spoke on the phone often with her mother while living there.
“After her welfare was checked and no disclosure or evidence of abuse was found, the case is considered inactive, pending any additional evidence of abuse or neglect,” Jones said.
Because authorities could not prove any abuse had taken place, Sherilyn’s custody is now merely a civil issue between her parents.
Legally, both Ron Rohbock and Sherilyn’s mother have equal custody of her, Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap said, and as long as she is in the custody of her mother, there is nothing the government can do.
“It’s terribly sad that children are caught in a tug-of-war between a parent who is in the (FLDS) community and a parent who is out,” Belnap said. “It’s one the tragedies of the whole situation.”
Ron Rohbock said he doesn’t believe for a minute that Sherilyn is currently with her mother; she wasn’t in her mother’s custody for more than two years prior to being removed from the trailer by authorities, he said.
“All I can do is sit back and say, ‘Please, God, watch over (Ron’s) children,’” Geri Rohbock said.
Persecution and criminal charges
Worries about Sherilyn’s whereabouts and wellbeing aren’t the only adversity the Rohbocks have faced since moving back to the Short Creek area. Ron and Geri Rohbock said they’ve been subjected to endless persecution from the FLDS people living in the community as well as harassment from the Colorado City/Hildale Marshal’s Office, which is known to be less of a law enforcement agency than an enforcement arm of the FLDS church.
FLDS people are taught that they are God’s elite and that it’s OK to be abusive to non-FLDS people, or “gentiles,” and do anything they want to them, Ron Rohbock said.
“What they believe is they have been given higher laws by their so-called prophet,” he said.
Since returning to Short Creek, Ron Rohbock said, he’s been hit in the back of the head with water bottles thrown at him from passing cars; FLDS people have intentionally spun their tires to pelt him with gravel; people have vandalized his property; and small FLDS children have even made obscene gestures at his wife.
“We wanted to go down and make a difference in the community, and we’ve tried and tried,” Geri Rohbock said.
“The people are such liars,” she added. “They’re hateful. It’s such an ugly place, and it’s like a black cloud that hangs over that town. The two towns.”
“The people out there don’t have the corner of evil, but they have a portion of it,” Ron Rohbock said.
In December 2014, Ron Rohbock was slapped with criminal charges for doing something people throughout the world do every year: playing Christmas music.
“Ron has never been involved with the law before and this was all very new, and it’s been very stressful,” Geri Rohbock said.
After Thanksgiving, Ron Rohbock said, he and his wife programmed a timer to turn on their outdoor Christmas lights in sync with an iPod programmed to play Christmas music – old-fashioned Christmas songs by artists like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.
While visiting family members in nearby Cane Beds, Arizona, Ron Rohbock received a call from a law enforcement officer back in Short Creek informing him that he should not be playing Christmas music outside his home. He said he then got a second official call saying the music was too loud. Answering a third phone call, Ron Rohbock was told by a friend that his house was surrounded by officers from the Marshal’s Office.
“So, I’ve got my friend telling me they’re waiting for me to arrest me,” Ron Rohbock said.
Geri Rohbock said she has a program on her phone that measures noise levels, and it had measured the Christmas music at 2 decibels. According to a study conducted by Purdue University, 10 decibels is equivalent to the sound of breathing. The music matter wasn’t about noise, anyway, Ron Rohbock said; it was a religious issue.
“In this community, they’re only allowed to listen to certain music and that music is all priesthood-appointed music,” he said.
At one point, somebody vandalized their Christmas lights and the music setup, he said. Officers were called out but told the Rohbocks they couldn’t do anything about the trespassing or the vandalism because the Rohbocks didn’t have a “no trespassing” sign posted on their property.
After authorities threatened criminal action against Ron Rohbock for playing the Christmas music, Geri Rohbock said, she and her husband asked their nearest neighbor if the music was bothering him.
“He said, ‘What music?’” Geri Rohbock said.
Ron Rohbock said he had previously been told that Hildale did not have a noise ordinance in place. Officers who responded to his home on the noise complaint agreed that the music was set at an acceptable volume, he said. Nevertheless, for playing the Christmas music Ron Rohbock received a misdemeanor charge for disturbing the peace.
“The officer was way out of line, and he cited me because they do not have a noise ordinance,” Ron Rohbock said.
Ron Rohbock is scheduled to appear in court regarding the charge on May 14. He said his case is being combined with the case of another local man who was allegedly beaten up by the marshals “in front of a lot of people” for having karaoke in his backyard.
Ron Rohbock said the bottom line, for him, is so many crimes are swept under the rug in Short Creek – not the least of which are incest and rape of children – that for local authorities to enforce such petty charges in the name of religious persecution is a joke.
“They need to know that they cannot get away with this kind of nonsense,” he said.
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- FLDS ‘concentration camp’ goes up in Colorado City; UEP must evict or lose land
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- FLDS family funeral feud; exiled brothers blocked from seeing mother before burial
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