YFZ – At the Gate

Eldorado – The front gate at the entrance of the FLDS church’s YFZ Ranch. Temple. Wednesday April 30, 2008. bird flying overhead

Today I relieved Scott, who had been camped out at the locked gate to the YFZ ranch. It was pretty quiet, just a few journos here (three, to be exact), killing time.

But there’s always something to write home about, right? Here’s what has happened in the past few hours on the lonely road:

1. An older gentleman in a pink shirt with a Big Ten baseball cap drove out to Texas, hoping to convert FLDS members to what he sees as legitimate Christianity. So far, in the first couple of hours he’s told me twice how much better his laptop is than mine. I agreed, and told him to call my boss so that they’ll buy me a new one.

2. Sightseers. A truck pulls up and two guys stare through binoculars at the distant temple and then leaves a minute later. A Forest Service truck (Forest Service) does the same. A photographer quips that the two are using taxpayer gas to drive out and stare at the ranch. A couple pulls up in a luxury SUV and ask, “Any breaking news?” When we tell them there’s nothing going on, they offer beers to the few of us sitting here. A couple guys indulge, clanking their bottles together: “Cheers!”

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3. A white or silver truck (above) is parked at the top of a large rock pile out on the ranch, with a good view of the entire area. I’m guessing the people in the truck are watching us. Another black truck occasionally drives up the rock pile to stop and chat, then leaves.

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4. A man in pink shorts and his son from Seattle stop by, a minor detour in a roadtrip back home. They eat sandwiches and take a few snaps of themselves at the gate with a point and shoot camera.

5. A fast-moving single-prop plane buzzes over the ranch, and as it goes over us, “USAF” is clearly visible on its blue belly. Some kind of WW2-era fighter. It flies off.

6. A young FLDS man in a truck with a trailer attached drives up to the gate. He unlocks it and drives off. I wave. He waves back.

7. The older guy from item #1 comes back to my car just now carrying his “slick as a whistle” 17-inch laptop to show me just how bright the LED screen is. He leans into my rental car, encouraging me to take my boss to the Apple store and show them the comparison to my “old” screen and his new one, which you can read in direct sunlight. I assure him that any such comparison would probably do little for me getting a new computer. I’d have better luck just dunking my laptop into the bathtub at my hotel room.

What will happen next here on County Road 300? I’ll be sure to let you know.

Utah Jazz v Houston Rockets

Houston – Utah Jazz vs. Houston Rockets, game five, NBA playoffs Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at the Toyota Center. Utah Jazz guard Ronnie Brewer (9)

Scott’s Story

Got this e-mail from my colleague Scott Sommerdorf, who took over the YFZ story when I left to cover the NBA Playoffs:


Got to go to the ranch a second time last night. After a crazy 5 1/2 hour drive from Dallas with stops in Waxahachie and Abilene to see two of the homes where FLDS kids will be taken, we finally were 20 minutes away from the ranch on our way to see the press conference that was to be held at the gate with some women who were just released from the Coliseum after having their children taken from them.

When we get the call that says it has just happened and it’s over.

All the way from Dallas to miss this by 20 minutes. AGHHH!!!

So we continue on and sit outside the gate for a while while Brooke works the phones trying to get us on. Looks like the answer is no, and my heart sinks – cause this means it’s been pretty much a wasted day with tons of driving and not many pictures to show for it.

Then Warren Jeff’s brother drives up, says hi to Brooke, and says, “do we need to get you on the ranch?”

He then makes a call, and not long after that, the gate opens and we start to drive in, and Brooke says “we’re in but it’ll probably be no pictures.” Again I’m bummed, but we continue up the road. In the meantime the most beautiful orange light is raking across the place and I can already see in my head the photo of these two anguished women bathed in this light.

So we arrive at the house, and meet Rod Parker, who says, “Oh yeah, its ok, y’all can take some pictures.”

I look at the sunset and see we are racing this light with maybe 10 more minutes before its down and dark.

They were going to have the interview inside the house, but I convince them that this “is the beautiful light of the day” and that can we have the meeting set up on the west side of the house. They are really cooperative and say, sure….

So then out come these women, and they are so sad, and I can only imagine how I would feel if my Zoe or Miles were taken from my arms how I would feel. I immediately have so much respect for them to come out and basically do the press conference over again just for us.

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Photo by Scott Sommerdorf

I ask them to stand where the light will hit them nicely and then Ruth Edna looks right in the camera with these eyes that look sad, and heartbroken, but also spitting mad. Also right at that moment Velvet, the other mom looks down as she considers talking about her kids.

We go on to have a great interview, and make some more photos of them, and hear their experiences inside the Coliseum, but that one frame, and those eyes keep haunting me.

I thought you’d like to see it, cause it wasn’t in the paper or on our website.


FLDS Raid – The Inside Photojournalist(s)

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Uncredited photos from CaptiveFLDSChildren.org.

Countless times while I was in Eldorado covering the raid on the YFZ Ranch, I pictured the events that were taking place out of sight, miles beyond police roadblocks and Texas scrub brush. We could see dozens of police vehicles rushing into the ranch, the police helicopter hovering overhead, and we could hear reports that police were preparing to breach the sect’s holy temple. But we could see nothing. It was frustrating beyond belief.

I wished for a way to get onto the ranch and photograph the historic events taking place. Little did I know, the people of the FLDS church were documenting their own history. And now they have put photos and video from the raid on a new site called CaptiveFLDSChildren.org.


While they didn’t have my professional-grade equipment or years of experience, the photographers who took these photos had access. And as you can see, access is more important than equipment or eye.

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These photographs give us just one side of the story, that of a people who feel their families were unjustly separated by overbearing government agents. Only time will reveal whether that is the way history will remember this story.

FLDS Raid – The Leaky APC

Photo released by Rod Parker, credit unknown.

A new front in the battle for public opinion over the Texas Polygamy Raid opened up last week after FLDS spokesman Rod Parker released photographs of law enforcement taken during the raid by the people of the YFZ ranch. Parker told the Deseret News that officials confiscated most of the photographs and video that FLDS members took of the law enforcement operation.

Photo as it appears at The Eldorado Success, credit unknown.

To counter the images of helmeted, machine gun-carrying officers sitting in an armored vehicle, photos were released by the other side (I assume by members of law enforcement) to The Eldorado Success newspaper. These photographs were obviously intended to show you the lighter side of the raid, showing officers conducting a show-and-tell of the armored vehicle with a group of young FLDS boys.

Amazing how these images, both released to shape public opinion, tell such an opposite story of the armored personnel vehicle used in the raid. One side is telling me this was a military assault on a group of unarmed farm folk. The other side is saying that it was nothing like that, more like a carnival with free APC rides.

What a shame there wasn’t an objective photographer present to document the events. When the government undertakes such a large operation against a group they accuse of such insidious acts, we deserve a little more transparency.

Sports Shooter Contest – Chris Detrick


PICTURE OF THE YEAR: Pepperdine’s Jason Walberg, #12, gouges the eyes of Brigham Young University’s Jonathan Tavernari, #45, during the first half of the game. No foul was called on the play. Photo by Chris Detrick

If you’re not in the insular world of photojournalism, you may not be aware that Tribune photographer Chris Detrick is one of the most talented photojournalists in the world. Really. This spring’s award season has brought Chris a wheelbarrow of awards including a third place for his sports portfolio in the international World Press Photo competition. Chris’s photo above took first place just about everywhere, and today took top honors in Sports Shooter’s Annual Contest. From their site:

“It was a unanimous decision by the judges because it has everything that a winning sports action photo should have – peak action, impact, interesting subject matter, and good composition…” said contest judge Donald Miralle about Detrick’s photograph.

Chris will be representing us at this summer’s Olympics in Beijing.

Another Tribune award in the Sports Shooter contest was an Award of Excellence given to my “Run Forrest Run” photo:


The winners gallery is quite impressive, with many friends of the blog also winning. You can see the rest of the winning photos by clicking here.

FLDS Custody Hearing – Day Two, The Decision

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On Friday, Judge Barbara Walther ruled that the 416 FLDS children taken from the YFZ Ranch would remain in state custody. The mood was very somber as parents (both mothers and fathers) exited the Tom Green County Court House.

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So ends this chapter of the Texas Polygamy Raid.

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I’m guessing the legal battle over the raid and the custody of the children is just beginning. The next hearing on custody will take place by June 5.

FLDS Custody Hearing – Day One

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Thursday was the first day of the huge custody hearing at the 51st District Courthouse that would decide the fate of the 416 children removed in a raid from the FLDS Church’s YFZ Ranch.

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We arrived at the court around 7am to ensure a good parking place, since the car is a mobile darkroom/office/dining room.

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Only one of the 400 or so attorneys offered any comment. She, Susan Hays, was surrounded by cameras.

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The line to get through security and into the court.

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So I had all of these photos by 10am and I wouldn’t shoot another good photograph all day. I sat around out front for fourteen hours, always ready in case something happened. Food was scarce around the court, though we found a bar that was selling frozen Tostino’s pizzas cooked in a toaster oven.

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The hearing continued into the dark hours. With so many attorneys and so many people involved in the drama, I should have expected the long chaos.

Jazz vs. Rockets, Game One – Williams

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Talk about culture shock. I go from nearly two weeks of pioneer dresses on the quiet prairie straight into an NBA arena filled with scantily-clad cheerleaders and pulsing hip hop music during timeouts. My head is bound to explode.

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Deron Williams.

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Tracy McGrady.

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