Nearly a year after the raid on its compound, the mysterious sect opens its doors to PEOPLE

By Alex Tresniowski
March 11, 2009 06:45 PM

When little Gloria Barlow feels happy, she makes a purring sound, “like she doesn’t even know how to express it,” says her mom, Nancy. But other times the 3-year-old screams for no apparent reason. “After the raid they kept her separate from our other children,” Barlow tells PEOPLE in its new cover story, on sale now. “So she learned how to scream.”

Gloria is one of the 439 children seized in an April 2008 raid targeting suspected sexual abuse on the compound of a breakaway Mormon sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, in Eldorado, Texas. FLDS church officials granted PEOPLE access to her family, and others, in an effort, they said, to strip away the mystery surrounding the sect – and to show how the raid changed their lives.

“It’s been like a natural disaster,” says Gloria’s father, Bob Barlow. “Like a hurricane hit us.”

The parents interviewed by PEOPLE say the raid on the polygamist sect left their children frightened and confused. During the children’s two months in state custody, they were exposed to marvels unknown in their insular, no-frills world: bicycles, TV shows, baseball games.

“They wanted to show them whatever they thought they were missing,” says Zavenda Jessop, whose four children Zachery, 10, Ephraim, 8, Russell, 6, and Anne, 4 were all taken in the raid. So did they enjoy any of their time away from the ranch? “It was junk,” Russell says simply, as he shows off a truck he fashioned from homemade Lincoln logs.

Other parents object to the clothes their children wore. “They dressed them in shorts!” says Nancy Barlow, who had four children Matthew, 10, LaNan, 7, Versaree, 5, and Gloria taken away. “My children know better than to have their arms and legs shown.” Her kids also “had so many toys thrown at them. Toys tend to teach children to be selfish. We make it real and useful to them. Gloria loves to do the dishes. If you cultivate that, then they’re happy.”

For more on life inside the FLDS sect, and what happened to the 200 women and children who never returned to the group’s Texas ranch, pick up this week’s PEOPLE, on newsstands today