Sheriff’s Department raids Amalia compound

Missing child was not found

(Courtesy Photo / Taos County Sheriff’s Office)
During their search of an Amalia, New Mexico, home Friday (Aug. 3) Taos County Sheriff’s officers found one suspect, multiple weapons, 11 children — who were living in filth —  but no missing 3-year-old.

According to to a Sheriff’s Office press release, following a two-month investigation  — in conjunction with Clayton County, Georgia and FBI investigators — Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe swore out an affidavit for a search warrant Thursday (Aug. 2) based on his belief that a makeshift compound — surrounded by tires and an earthen berm in Costilla Meadows subdivision  — was occupied by 39-year-old Siraj Wahhaj, who was wanted for abducting 3-year-old AG Wahhaj.

Siraj Wahhaj (Courtesy Photo / Taos County Sheriff’s Office)
Siraj Wahhaj and Lucas Morten, both from Georgia are now in custody. Eleven children ages one to 15 were taken into protective custody and later turned over to New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department (CYFD) for their own health and safety. Three women, believed to be the children’s mothers, were also detained as investigators continue to sort out details of the case.

Sheriff Hogrefe said the FBI had recently provided information and surveillance on the property, “but they (FBI) didn’t feel there was enough probable cause to get on the property.

Lucas Morten (Courtesy Photo / Taos County Sheriff’s Office)
That all changed for me when a message was forwarded to us from a Georgia Detective that we reasonably believed came from someone at the compound – the message sent to a third party simply 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, 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 extremists of the Muslim belief.

“We also knew from the layout of the compound they would have an advantage if we didn’t deploy tactfully and quickly.”

Friday morning, eight members of Sheriff’s Response Team (SRT) were assisted by the State OSI unit when they executed the search warrant.

The “all day” operation went without major incident or any injuries, though Wahhaj and Morten initially refused to follow verbal direction and Wahhaj was 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 I saw were a few potatoes and a box of rice in the filthy trailer,” Hogrefe said. “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 with no food or fresh water, no shoes, and basically dirty rags for clothing.”

AG Wahhaj, the missing child who is also from Georgia, was not located among the children.

Wahhaj and Morten were arrested; Wahhaj was booked on his no-bond Georgia warrant for child abduction and Morten was charged with harboring a fugitive.

The women were detained for questioning and later released pending further investigation while all 11 children were immediately taken in protective custody and later turned over to the state CYFD division.

“We all gave the kids our water and what snacks we had,” Hogrefe said. “It was the saddest living conditions and poverty I have seen.”

None of the adults would give statement to the current whereabouts of AG Wahhaj, but it is known he was there a few weeks ago. The investigation into locating him is ongoing with coordination efforts from Clayton County Georgia and FBI investigators.

(Courtesy Photo / Taos County Sheriff’s Office)