Officials in New Mexico say 11 children have been removed from a desert compound where they were living in "filthy" conditions with hardly any food.
The Taos County Sheriff's Office said Saturday that the children, aged 1 to 15, were found while deputies served a search warrant that stemmed from a child abduction case in Georgia.
Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said the warrant was issued Thursday before deputies strategically stormed the compound, where they arrested two men and detained three women believed to be the mothers of the children.
The alleged abductor, 39-year-old Siraj Wahhaj, was one of the two men arrested.
Wahhaj was jailed on suspicion of child abduction. The other man, Lucas Morten, was arrested on suspicion of harboring a fugitive, Hogrefe said.
According to a sheriff's office statement, the decision to serve the warrant came after a message police believe came from someone at the compound was intercepted by authorities in Georgia.
“The message sent to a third party simply said in part 'we are starving and need food and water,'" Hogrefe said. "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."
Hogrefe said the “all day” operation unfolded Friday, when both men initially refused orders to surrender and Wahhaj was held up inside the compound and heavily armed with an AR15 rifle, five loaded 30 round magazines, and four loaded pistols, including one in his pocket when he was taken down.
Many more rounds of ammo were found in the makeshift compound that consists of a small travel trailer buried in the ground covered by plastic with no water, plumbing, or electricity.
"The only food we saw were a few potatoes and a box of rice in the filthy trailer,” said Hogrefe. “But what was most surprising, and heartbreaking was when the team located a total of five adults and 11 children that looked like third world country refugees not only with no food or fresh water, but with no shoes, personal hygiene and basically dirty rags for clothing."
The sheriff called it "the saddest living conditions and poverty I have seen."
Authorities said the abducted 3-year-old Georgia officials are searching for was not among the 11 children.
Police said the adults declined to give statements about the missing child, but he is believed to have been at the compound as recently as a few weeks ago.