Court documents released this week are revealing new allegations in the discovery of emaciated children at a New Mexico compound – including that at least one of the kids was being trained to commit school shootings, and that an adult buried a long-missing child there.
Authorities raided the compound near rural Amalia last Friday, rescuing 11 starving children and arresting two men and three women, after what started as an investigation into one of the men’s alleged abduction of his son in Georgia.
That boy – Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj – was not among those 11 children, but authorities discovered the unidentified remains of a young male at the compound Monday.
In court filings this week, prosecutors allege:
• One of the rescued children told a foster parent the suspects “trained the child in the use of an assault rifle in preparation for future school shootings.”
• They believe the children were taken to New Mexico to receive advanced weapons training but didn’t reveal any further details.
• They argue that if the suspects were to be released, there is a substantial likelihood the defendants may commit new crimes due to their planning and preparation for school shootings.
• At least two of the rescued children say that Abdul-Ghani died at the compound. One of the children says an adult buried the boy there.
Prosecutors on Wednesday asked a judge to have the five suspects – Abdul-Ghani’s father, Siraj Wahhaj; the man’s sisters, Hujrah Wahhaj and Subhannah Wahhaj; Lucas Morten; and Jany Leveille – held in jail without bail.
Authorities have said the adults and children were on a property with a makeshift shooting range and two main dwelling areas – a partially buried camper trailer surrounded in part by trenches and old tires, and a parked utility truck.
Investigators also found an AR-15 rifle, loaded 30-round magazines, four loaded pistols and many rounds of ammunition, officials said.
Missing child’s search unveils horror
Police raided the squalid New Mexico compound on Friday, hoping to find Abdul-Ghani. His mother in Georgia says he has been missing for more than eight months.
The boy was last seen leaving his Jonesboro, Georgia, home with his father in late November, and it’s unclear what happened to him. His mother had said he cannot walk and suffers seizures, and requires constant medical attention.
The remains of a boy were found at the compound Monday – the day of the missing child’s fourth birthday.
In a court document filed Sunday, Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe wrote that one of the rescued children alleged that “Uncle Lucas” had buried Abdul-Ghani at the New Mexico property after washing the body twice.
On Thursday, New Mexico’s chief medical investigator said the body’s identification would not be quick, because of its state of decomposition.
“If we must rely on DNA results, identification could take many weeks,” Dr. Kurt Nolte said.
Sheriff: Suspects considered ‘extremists’
Hogrefe, the sheriff, said authorities got a warrant to search the property last week after they received a message from what appeared to be someone inside the compound that said “we are starving and need food and water.”
“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 in a news release Saturday, “so I began working on a search warrant right after I got that intercepted message – it had to be a search warrant and a tactical approach for our own safety because we had learned the occupants were most likely heavily armed and considered extremist of the Muslim belief.”
The sheriff did not elaborate. Later, in a phone interview with the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper on Sunday, Hogrefe said FBI analysts told him the suspects appeared to be “extremist of the Muslim belief.”
CNN has reached out to the suspects’ public defender for comment. The FBI declined to comment.
Suspect cited ‘God’s orders’ in text, neighbor says
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a neighbor of the compound told CNN about exchanging texts with Morten in recent months.
The texts, which CNN is unable to verify independently, appear to show Morten asking for supplies, and asserting that, under “God’s orders” he could drive only from dusk until dawn.
“Good morning Big guy! Can i give u some gas cans and cash could uy hook me up. … Please and thanks in advance,” reads one of the texts to the neighbor, sent on April 26.
“Hey Bud I got $50 towards gas or whatever so my wife can ride along with your wife to get some groceries,” reads another, sent on the same day.
What’s next for the suspects?
The five suspects were each arraigned Wednesday in a Taos courtroom on 11 counts of child abuse related to the neglect and abuse of the children.
Morten was also charged with harboring a fugitive, Siraj Wahhaj, on suspicion of knowing that he was committing custodial interference with Abdul-Ghani.
The suspects pleaded not guilty and are expected to appear at a pretrial detention hearing Monday, according to Aleksandar Kostich, a state public defender.
Family members of the suspects said they didn’t know anything of the alleged training for school shootings.
The father of Wahhaj and his two sisters, Siraj Wahhaj, a New York imam, has “no knowledge” of the alleged training, said his spokesman, Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid.
On Thursday, the elder Wahhaj told reporters in New York that “everybody in my family is perplexed” by what authorities found in New Mexico.
The imam said the plea for help came through Facebook: We need food, we’re starving. The elder Siraj Wahhaj said his daughter sent the message to a man in Atlanta who passed it on to him.
That daughter sent the message about starvation, and she revealed the group’s location when she was asked where supplies could be sent, he said.
As soon as they received the location they shared it with police, Wahhaj said.
“To me, obviously something happened – mental disorder, or something,” he said of his children. “This doesn’t seem like them.”
The imam said he has not spoken with his son since late 2017. Nor had he heard directly from his two daughters, he said.
The elder Wahhaj was the first Muslim to offer an opening prayer before the US House of Representatives, the Muslim Alliance in North America said. He was also a character witness for convicted 1993 World Trade Center bombing mastermind Omar Abdel-Rahman.
Mother reported boy missing
Shariyf Muhammad, attorney for Abdul-Ghani’s mother, Hakima Ramzi, said she “has no knowledge of any training for school shootings.”
Ramzi has not been charged in the case. She reported her son missing to Clayton County, Georgia, authorities in December after the younger Wahhaj took their son to a park and never returned, according to a police report.
“My husband said he was taking Abdul-Ghani to the park, and didn’t come back. That was in November 2017. When I would ask him where he was, he said he was on his way, he was coming soon, he was just keeping him for the night. But I haven’t seen him since then,” Ramzi said Tuesday.
Days after Ramzi reported her son missing, the child’s father was involved in an accident in Alabama, according to a police report. The SUV was carrying seven children – but none of them was listed with Abdul-Ghani’s date of birth.
The group told Alabama police they were headed to New Mexico for camping, and continued on their way.
Police initially didn’t file a child abduction report because Wahhaj and Ramzi were married; she filed for divorce in December, Clayton County court documents show. But a juvenile court judge in January issued an arrest warrant for Wahhaj for failing to let Ramzi know where he’d taken their son.
The warrant states that Wahhaj “wanted to perform an exorcism” on the child because he believed he was possessed by the devil.
Ramzi, however, told CNN that she never claimed Wahhaj sought to perform an exorcism. Instead, Ramzi said, she told police that he wanted to perform ruqya on the boy.
While ruqya is generally described as an Islamic version of exorcism – though the targets are jinn, or spirits, rather than Satan – Ramzi described Wahhaj’s intentions as an attempt to cast out Abdul-Ghani’s illness via prayer.
“It’s not an exorcism,” she told CNN. “That was a translation issue in the court. He just wanted to pray for Abdul-Ghani to get better.”
CNN’s Scott McLean and Sara Weisfeldt wrote and reported from Taos, and Nicole Chavez and Jason Hanna wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Hollie Silverman, Samira Said, Eric Levenson and Darran Simon contributed to this report.