Stacks of tires, piles of trash and plastic sheets surrounded the squalid New Mexico compound, shrouding what was happening inside — five adults, including a fugitive wanted in the disappearance of his young son, living with 11 emaciated children.
The compound — including a partially buried camper trailer — was littered with hazards and lacked electricity, sewage disposal and plumbing. The place was teeming with trash and odor, and the children were wearing rags, had no shoes and likely hadn’t eaten in days.
These are a sheriff’s descriptions of a property that officers raided last week in rural Amalia, New Mexico, according to court documents, in what started as an investigation into a man’s alleged abduction of his son, then 3, in Georgia last year.
That man was one of the five adults arrested at the compound Friday, and the 11 children were put into protective custody — but the Georgia boy still is missing.
The shelter was covered by plastic, the sheriff’s office said. And it was “surrounded in part with an earthen berm and old tires stacked up around it,” Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe wrote in an affidavit filed Monday.
The property also has “open trenches and pits, with numerous trip hazards and wood with nails sticking up and broken glass and bottles litter around the grounds,” Hogrefe wrote.
The cluttered compound had loaded firearms easily within the children’s reach, and the group had been there for at least two months, the sheriff said.
Hogrefe described the children looking like “third-world country refugees” with no food, fresh water or shoes and “basically dirty rags” for clothing.
Property had a shooting range and ‘escape tunnel’
Deputies said the ramshackle dwelling appeared to be “built underground,” including a small camper trailer that was partially buried, Hogrefe wrote in a separate affidavit for a search warrant last week.
Also on the 10-acre parcel, investigators spotted what “appears to be a shooting range along the west side of the property,” according to the affidavit. Nearby residents also told deputies they had regularly heard gunfire from the property.
When one of the suspects, Siraj Wahhaj, was arrested Friday, he was armed with an AR-15 rifle, four loaded pistols and five loaded 30-round magazines, the sheriff’s office said.
KOB, a news station in New Mexico, reported that bullet casings and shattered glass were found where an improvised shooting range had been set up.
The station visited the compound with a couple who own the property. Owner Justin Badger told KOB that there was also a 150-foot “escape tunnel” that crossed property lines. Firearms, a tactical vest, video cameras and a laptop were at the site as well, the couple told the station.
The compound was built on someone else’s property
Investigators believe one of the suspects owned an adjacent property but built the compound on Badger’s property “by mistake,” according to the affidavit for the search warrant.
The compound had popped up early in the year, Badger told investigators.
He tried to negotiate with the compound’s occupants to exchange lots, but that never happened, he told police. Badger had also filed an eviction notice to try to get his property back, only to have it dismissed in magistrate court, according to the search warrant affidavit.
Authorities were tipped off to the scene that set off the raid at the compound. They learned that Wahhaj, who was wanted after he was last seen with his son, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, on November 30, might be living on the New Mexico property, according to the affidavit for the search warrant.
Abdul, whose fourth birthday was Monday, was reported missing by his mother from Clayton County, Georgia, in December. The boy hasn’t been found.