WASHINGTON COUNTY — In the wake of a tragic flash flood Monday that claimed the lives of three women and at least nine children who were swept away by a wall of water barreling through the streets of Hildale, family of the deceased and members of the community are experiencing additional heartache after learning many of them are being denied access to funeral services due to their lack of standing with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, locally known as Short Creek, have historically served as headquarters of the FLDS church.
However, in more recent times, the two communities have been divided among those who have left the church and those who still follow Warren Jeffs, who is considered a prophet by the polygamous sect. Jeffs is serving a life sentence in Texas after being convicted of crimes related to marrying and sexually abusing underage girls he considered brides.
Many believed Monday’s flash flood tragedy was bringing the communities back together, or at least temporarily uniting them. But after it was made clear in Thursday’s press conference that funeral services for the flood victims would be private, many former-FLDS members lost all hope that they would get to pay their final respects to those who died by attending their funerals.
“They’re making it so the families can’t have closure by not allowing them to even view their bodies – their mothers, their grandmothers – their sisters in this instance – and it’s, we can’t keep living like this,” Hildale resident Leroy Timpson said, adding:
This is not love. This is not God. This is nothing to do with what this community and what we’ve stood for all of our lives and tried to promote love and kindness, it’s not about that anymore. It’s about these people overpowering their sway of mind-control and physical-control of people and, somehow, we’ve got to get people involved.
A total of 16 people were swept away by the fast-moving, deadly waters in Short Creek. Of those 16, 13 were children ages 4-11. The other three – Della Black, Josephine Jessop and Naomi Jessop – were sisters and the mothers of the 13 children.
Timpson said a heartbroken brother of the three women called him from California Tuesday afternoon.
“He talked to his mother who is in Canada and said that Lyle Jeffs told her she couldn’t come down and even see her daughter that has passed away – her three daughters – unless she promises not to see any of the children that have left the FLDS religion.”
Lyle Jeffs, Warren Jeffs’ brother, has been leading the FLDS church since his brother’s imprisonment.
The brother of the three dead women said he’s worried he won’t be able to find closure in the death of his sisters and nieces and nephews, Timpson said, without being allowed to attend any of their services.
“(The women were) in their 20s, you know; they weren’t old ladies,” Timpson said. “These were young mothers and he wants to have closure. It hasn’t been that long since they were, you know, eating Sunday dinner.”
This isn’t the first we’ve heard of these middle-of-the-night burials where those who were not in good standing with the leadership of the FLDS church were not able to attend.
In June 2014, members of the “exiled brothers” community, or those who have been exiled from the FLDS, were denied access to see their mother’s, Loana Silvester Harker Barlow Broadbent, body after she passed away. FLDS members had the body moved in the middle of the night for burial to allegedly keep her banished children from seeing her.
While some have likened the ordeal to body snatching, it’s not clear whether anything illegal has transpired.
“That has been the norm for about the last – I would dare say the last 10 deaths that we’ve had in the FLDS religion,” Timpson said. “They have buried them either in the night or early in the morning or some way so the rest of the family can’t come up to the graveside and have closure.”
Most recently, family members of Walter K. Steed, a former-Hildale judge who was found dead in August after his semitruck went off a 200-foot cliff near the Hurricane Hill Trailhead, were not allowed to attend his services.
The church had taken possession of Steed’s body in a matter of hours after it was recovered and refused to let family members who had left the church pay their last respects.
“He was a judge here for many years – well-known – had 36 children. Fifteen of those children are not FLDS anymore, and not one of them got to see their father. In fact, it wasn’t even 24 hours that the church had possession of that body and they had him buried in the night,” Timpson said, adding:
And then they went and desecrated the grave by making it look like they buried him somewhere else. It was silly. Anyway, there’s evidence about things that are going on that are not right and somebody needs to stop this. Hopefully, they can stop it with this incident that happened just barely.
Timpson said he has no idea why the FLDS church members have been doing this, other than, “just to cause more conflict between family members.”
“It’s a social humanitarian crisis that’s in this community,” Hildale resident Dowayne Barlow said.
“We’ve been subjected in the past through the Jeffs’ church to night burials – these shunning of families at the funerals,” Barlow said. “I don’t expect that we’re going to have anything different here.”
While some of the former-FLDS members chose to leave the church on their own, numerous others had no choice after Warren Jeffs assumed power of the church more than a decade ago. Jeffs fast became known for separating families.
Jeffs has exiled countless members, banning their family from contacting the “apostates” – oftentimes, without reason, especially the men. One of those men in particular was Joseph Newell Jessop, the husband of Naomi and Josephine Jessop who died in the flood along with seven of their children.
“Now, all the men are gone. See, out of those three women, only one of them has a husband that’s here,” Timpson said. “The other two, their husband’s been sent away to go repent by Warren or Lyle.”
Kendall Pipkin Lyle posted the following comment on the St. George News Facebook page:
Can’t waste a tragedy. Another sad point of it is Joseph was kicked out a while back and hasn’t had contact with his family for two years. Then this tragedy happens and they get him back here pronto to read a prepared statement. The FLDS leaders have become the very thing they preach is evil; and so many pawns fail to see it.
“The same mentality that Lyle (Jeffs) has been doing, these Jeffs boys have been taking over our dead and not allowing these families to have closure,” Timpson said, “and it’s happening right now with these victims.”
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