ST. GEORGE — An Amber Alert issued for two missing children in Southern Utah Monday led to the rescue of four girls who were found in “poor health” and “acting lethargic,” according to police. All four girls were taken to the hospital for emergency care. The youngest girl was then taken by helicopter to Primary Children’s Hospital.
The Coltharp children – Dinah, 8, William, 7, Seth, 6, and Hattie, 4 – their father, John Coltharp, and grandparents Keith and Cathy Coltharp, all from Spring City in Sanpete County, disappeared in September.
John Coltharp was arrested Friday on suspicion of kidnapping and obstruction of justice, but refused to tell authorities where his children were. He is being held in the Sanpete County Jail on a $50,000 cash-only bond.
Southern Utah authorities became involved in the search for the children Friday after receiving court documents stating the children’s mother, Micha Soble, believed her children were in the Iron County area near Beryl Junction, about 30 miles west of Cedar City, Iron County Sheriff’s Lt. Del Schlosser said in a statement Tuesday.
Soble, who filed for divorce and obtained sole custody of her children, said her husband had been excommunicated by the Mormon church before he went on to form a religious-survivalist cult last year.
“(John Coltharp) is a doomsday prepper who believes that the world will soon come to an end,” according to Utah court documents. “(John Coltharp) belongs to a religious group called The Knights of the Crystal Blade and is likely living in the Cedar City area with the sect’s prophet, Samuel Warren Schaffer.”
Family members who spoke to the Denver Post believed John Coltharp gave his two daughters to Shaffer as brides.
Deputies responded to the area but were unable to locate the children or their father, officials said.
On Sunday evening, the Sheriff’s Office received a tip that the grandparents were in a remote area of northern Iron County, approximately 1 mile west of Lund, Schlosser said. Deputies responded to the area and located their vehicle at a compound made up of shipping containers.
“It appeared as though people were living in the shipping containers at that time,” Schlosser said.
At approximately 11:15 a.m. Monday, authorities initiated a traffic stop on a vehicle leaving the compound and located the grandfather. It was then determined that two of the children – Seth Coltharp and William Coltharp – were at the compound with their grandmother.
Officials located the two boys at the compound.
Police learned that Dinah Coltharp and Hattie Coltharp were last seen with Samuel Shaffer, who also had his two biological daughters, ages 7 and 5, in his custody, Schlosser said. Shaffer had left the compound on foot Sunday sometime after 4 p.m.
“It was reported Samuel had spent the previous night with all four girls in a tent on or near the property,” Schlosser said.
Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft were deployed to help search the area for the children and an Amber Alert had been issued by 3 p.m. for Dinah and Hattie Coltharp.
About two-and-a-half hours later, an individual who had heard the Amber Alert called police advising of a man walking alone on a dirt road, several miles west of the compound, officials said. Deputies responded to the area, identified the man as Shaffer and took him into custody without incident.
At that time, Shaffer provided law enforcement with a general location of two of the four girls.
Deputies responded to the area and found Hattie Coltharp and Shaffer’s 7-year-old daughter inside blue plastic 50-gallon water barrels located approximately 1,000 yards south of the Coltharp property.
“Shaffer stated the children had been placed in the water barrels to conceal or hide them from being found by searching law enforcement,” Schlosser said, noting that the girls had spent approximately 24 hours inside the barrels in “subfreezing temperatures.”
“These two children were not properly dressed for the cold temperatures and did not have food or water at that time,” Schlosser added. “Shaffer also made statements he had left a firearm behind on the ground next to the barrel.”
Shaffer initially refused to tell police where the other two girls were located.
Approximately 20 law enforcement officials began searching for the two girls, and a Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter responded to assist. Gold Cross Ambulance and an Intermountain Life Flight helicopter were also called to the scene.
About an hour later, Shaffer provided the location of the girls, according to police. Dinah Coltharp and Shaffer’s 5-year-old daughter were subsequently located in an abandoned single-wide mobile home.
The girls were found in “poor health” and were “acting lethargic” with signs of dehydration, Schlosser said.
All four girls were transported by ambulance to Cedar City Hospital for emergency medical care. The youngest child was then taken by helicopter to Primary Children’s Hospital due to her condition, Schlosser said, noting that he did not know the girl’s condition or ailments.
The other three children have since been released from the hospital.
Shaffer was arrested and charged with two felony counts of kidnapping and four felony counts of child abuse.
“It is currently believed Johnathan Coltharp and Samuel Shaffer are part of the Knights of the Crystal Blade,” Schlosser said. “It was believed Samuel Shaffer was the prophet of the Knights of the Crystal Blade. During an interview with Shaffer he stated he had turned over the position of prophet to Johnathan Coltharp.”
An investigation is ongoing as search warrants relating to the case are being executed at three locations while an FBI forensic team assists in collecting evidence, police said Tuesday.
Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.
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