New Mexico sheriffs searching for a missing 3-year-old boy stumbled upon a heavily armed compound housing 11 starving children and possibly tied to Islamic extremists, authorities said Sunday.
A child-welfare agency took custody of the children, who ranged in age from 1 to 15.
Hogrefe described the compound as "the saddest living conditions and poverty" he has seen in 30 years on the job.
Tarps flapped across covered spaces behind the wall of tires stacked in a half circle around the property's perimeter, which contains a partially buried travel trailer, an earthen berm and other smaller structures. FBI investigators had reason to believe that Wahhaj was occupying the compound with Morten and others, but they didn't feel there was enough probable cause to obtain a search warrant.
A TCSO response team raided the compound on Friday after detectives provided photos of text messages from an unidentified female at the compound pleading for help, money and food.
Three women, believed to be the mothers of the children taken into state custody, were detained and questioned Friday but later were released, the statement said. "But they certainly warmed up to us", the sheriff told ABC News Radio.
The investigation kicked off late last year on the opposite side of the country in Jonesboro, Georgia, where 39-year-old Siraj Wahhaj of the state's Clayton County was accused of kidnapping his toddler - who was ultimately not found. "I absolutely knew that we couldn't wait on another agency to step up and we had to go check this out as soon as possible".More news: All eyes on 'right-hand man' as Manafort trial resumes
More news: Lions end Waratahs' season in brutal fashion
More news: Facebook begins testing its dating project internally
"The only food we saw were a few potatoes and a box of rice in the filthy trailer", Hogrefe said.
Neither family nor authorities could be reached over the weekend, so it's unclear how police tracked Ibn Wahhaj and company to Taos County - a mountainous, sparsely populated region along New Mexico's northern border. Photos released by the sheriff's office show a ramshackle bunker with no apparent electricity or plumbing.
While a warrant was issued, criminal charges were not filed against his dad, Siraj Wahhaj, as authorities say there was no custody issue and they simply wanted to know where the child was.
A neighbor in the area, who agreed to interview on the condition of anonymity, said he knew all 16 people who lived at the dwelling, and felt "disgusted" following the arrests and detainments on Friday. They are believed to be the mothers of all of the kids found in the trailer, sister station KRQE reports. Everybody was wearing dirty rags for clothing and no one had shoes or any semblance of personal hygiene, he said.
The sheriff's office said none of the adults, including the three women, gave a statement regarding the missing boy's current whereabouts. Morten was arrested for harboring a fugitive.
The men had refused to follow verbal direction, police said, who added the raid went without major incident or injuries even as Wahhaj needed to be "taken down".
The investigation is ongoing. While he was placed on the Georgia Crime Information Center and National Crime Information Center databases as a missing person in December, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children lists him as missing since November 29.