By BRIDGET LEWISON
COLORADO CITY — Colorado City, Ariz., has been in the news in recent months, including the convictions of FLDS self-proclaimed prophet Warren Jeffs and former FLDS president Wendell Loy Nielsen. The critically acclaimed documentary “The Sons of Perdition” spotlights the plight of the sect’s “Lost Boys” and Utah investigator Sam Brower’s recent book, “Prophet’s Prey,” explains how he helped nab Jeffs.
Long before the convictions and national media attention, however, data compiled by a journalist and a woman who fled from the FLDS suggest a dangerous life for kids in the polygamist twin communities of Colorado City and Hildale, Utah.
K. Dee Ignatin, who provided data downloaded onto the document-sharing site Scribd.com, first became acquainted with polygamy in Mohave County in 2005 while working for Murphy Broadcasting in Lake Havasu City. She came into contact with some of those who left Colorado City, including one woman who had compiled information on the towns’ dead.
“She drew my attention to the cemeteries in the the twin polygamous towns,” said Ignatin, who now resides in Texas and works with the nonprofit Americans Against Abuses of Polygamy (tripleap.org). “She provided me with a list she had meticulously compiled of every grave in the cemeteries. She had attempted to get as much information as possible on each body buried there, and the cause of death.”
Ignatin said she was uninterested in the information at first, until she noticed something: Of the 398 individuals interred from 1932 to 2003, half are minors.
A little more than 25 percent of the cemetery population is made up of those 24 years and younger who died between 1990 and 2003.
In 2000, only 3.45 percent of all deaths in Mohave County were among those 24 years and younger, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
While a cause of death is not listed for all those interred, the data show at least 10 children between the ages of 1 and 6 were “run over” and eight minors drowned. Many others died in accidents.
Data drawn from KidsAndCars.org also shows nine children died in non-traffic related vehicle accidents in Colorado City from 1990 to 2010. With a population of only about 4,600, Colorado City had the same amount of deaths as Connecticut, with a population of 3.5 million.
Ignatin said it took her four years to compile the non-traffic vehicle accident information because finding a comparison group proved challenging.
“I kept looking for cities in America where children died this way, at that rate. There are none,” she said. “The state of Connecticut is as close as I could get to the same numbers of dead children, and they have an estimated 55,000 children in their state, not less than 2,000, like Colorado City.”
Ignatin said her attempts to get answers from Arizona officials were “thwarted at every turn, from the county level to the state level.”
“One county supervisor told me more children died there because they had more children,” she said. “The head of Mohave County’s health department told me that Colorado City was too small to take any statistical analysis. She also told me that they did not want to do anything to upset the people of Colorado City, because they had worked so hard to gain their trust and were now bringing their children for immunizations.”
Ignatin said a representative with the state heath department “was initially helpful and expressed surprise that child deaths were in fact so high in the city,” but later refused to take or return her calls after she asked for information on the autopsy results for the children who had been run over. The representative later called her back to explain no autopsies were performed in non-traffic related accidents.
Requests for comment from the county medical examiner also have gone unanswered.
In June 2010, a Mohave County judge dismissed charges against Jeffs regarding sexual conduct with a minor, and he was extradited to Utah. In December 2010, Jeffs was extradited to Texas after Utah overturned his 2007 convictions for rape as an accomplice.
Last August, Jeffs was convicted of sexually assaulting two of his teenage “spiritual wives” and is serving a life sentence in Texas. His bigamy trial was scheduled for October, but has been delayed.
Last month, a Texas jury sentenced Nielsen to 10 years and $30,000 in fines for three felony counts of bigamy.
“Sons of Perdition” premiered last June on OWN. The film follows three Lost Boys after they leave their small community. Sam Zitting, Joseph Broadbent and Bruce Barlow describe their experiences in the the film, which has garnered several awards at film festivals worldwide, including top honors at the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam.
The term Lost Boys is given to teenagers who are either forced out or leave the community, many say because they become competition for older men who often take much younger wives. The boys lack life skills and education, and struggle to become part of the mainstream. Some of the Lost Boys turn to construction to make a living, but many find themselves on drugs and unemployed.
“I went and worked for my dad for many years,” says Broadbent, who at 17 left behind two mothers and 21 siblings. “I started when I was 7 or 8 years old, welding.” Some of the large equipment he operated as a child include a backhoe, a loader, an earthmover, a water truck and a road grader. He also did concrete work, sheet rock and finishing work. “The money went to my dad, and 10 percent of it went to tithing. And the tithing went to Warren (Jeffs).”
Author Brower continues to investigate the FLDS and is a panelist at this month’s Conference on Human Trafficking at Southern Utah University.
Link to cemetery and child deaths data: