By Lindsay Whitehurst / AP
December 7, 2017

(SALT LAKE CITY) — A man described as a self-styled prophet was charged Wednesday with child abuse and kidnapping after two girls were found hidden in plastic water barrels near what authorities called a makeshift compound in the southern Utah desert.

Samuel Shaffer, 34, led an upstart group with beliefs in doomsday and polygamy, police said. He left the two girls in the 50-gallon barrels to hide them from authorities, leaving them for 24 hours in below-freezing temperatures, according to the Iron County Sheriff’s Office.

Two other girls were also found in an abandoned trailer on Monday. None of the four girls aged 4 through 8 were dressed for the weather, police said.

Two of the girls were Shaffer’s children, and the other two were daughters of his follower John Coltharp, 33. Coltharp’s wife, Micha Coltharp, had reported them missing, along with the couple’s two sons. The boys were found earlier Monday inside the makeshift compound made of storage containers.

Coltharp has also been charged with child kidnapping and obstruction of justice. No attorney has been listed for either man.

The girls were found after police descended on the rural area about 275 miles south of Salt Lake City, with helicopters and police dogs. The raid was a culmination of a weekslong effort by Micha Coltharp to get custody of the couple’s four children after her husband took them to join the group he’d formed with Shaffer.

Both men were interested in arcane Mormon ideas long abandoned by the mainstream church and formed a group called the Knights of The Crystal Blade, relatives said. They had decamped to the desert with John Coltharp’s parents, possibly in hopes of gaining followers or joining another group, his brother-in-law Michael Lee said. John Coltharp was arrested last week, but refused to say where his children were.

Police found the compound and the two Coltharp boys after the story became public Monday, but when they got there Shaffer had taken the four girls and spent the night before in a tent, according to police.

An Amber Alert went out for the Coltharp girls and the search intensified with helicopters and police dogs.

Shaffer was found walking down a road alone late Monday. He told police where the girls were after he was arrested, according to court documents.

The girls were treated for the effects of cold and symptoms of dehydration but didn’t have obvious injuries, police said.

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