Mothers arrested after 11 children found at New Mexico compound

An aerial photo released by the Taos County sheriff's office shows a rural compound during an unsuccessful search for a missing 3-year-old boy in Amalia, N.M.
An aerial photo released by the Taos County sheriff's office shows a rural compound during an unsuccessful search for a missing 3-year-old boy in Amalia, N.M.Taos County Sheriff's Office via Associated Press

TAOS, N.M. — Three women believed to be the mothers of 11 children found hungry and living in a filthy makeshift compound in rural northern New Mexico have been arrested, after the weekend arrests of two men, authorities said Monday.

A message that people were starving, believed sent by someone inside the compound, led to the discovery of the children. A boy last seen in Alabama in December traveling with one of the men who was arrested has not been found.

Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said that the women and the two men face charges of child abuse. He identified the women as Jany Leveille, 38-year-old Hujrah Wahhaj, and 35-year-old Subhannah Wahha. They were arrested in the town of Taos and booked into jail.


The children ranging in age from 1 to 15 were removed from the compound in the small community of Amalia near the Colorado border and turned over to state child-welfare workers.

Police are still are looking for AG Wahhaj, reported missing from Georgia’s Clayton County, Hogrefe said.

The boy’s mother told police he left with his father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, for a trip to a park and never returned. The child was 3 at the time.

Siraj Ibn Wahhaj was detained on an outstanding warrant in Georgia alleging child abduction. Lucas Morten was jailed on suspicion of harboring a fugitive, Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said. It was not clear over the weekend if they had lawyers.

Clayton County police said in a missing persons bulletin that Wahhaj and his son were last seen Dec. 13 in Alabama, traveling with five other children and two adults.

The search at the compound came amid a two-month investigation in collaboration with Clayton County authorities and the FBI, according to Hogrefe.

He said FBI agents had surveilled the area a few weeks ago but did not find probable cause to search the property.


That changed when Georgia detectives forwarded a message to Hogrefe’s office that initially had been sent to a third party, saying: ‘‘We are starving and need food and water.’’

The sheriff said there was reason to believe the message came from someone inside the compound.

What authorities found was what Hogrefe called ‘‘the saddest living conditions and poverty’’ he has seen in 30 years on the job.

Other than a few potatoes and a box of rice, there was little food in the compound, which Hogrefe said consisted of a small travel trailer buried in the ground and covered by plastic with no water, plumbing, or electricity.

Hogrefe said the adults and children had no shoes, wore dirty rags for clothing, and ‘‘looked like Third-World-country refugees.’’

The group appeared to have been living at the compound for a few months. It was unclear how or why they ended up in New Mexico, Hogrefe said.