Two Utah men believed to be involved in a doomsday religious cult allegedly married each other’s underage daughters.
Samuel Shaffer, 34, and 33-year-old John Coltharp have both been charged with kidnapping. Coltharp also faces charges of sodomy of a child for a sexual assault stemming from an alleged incident on August 1, 2017, KUTV reports.
Shaffer allegedly told detectives that he was married to Coltharp’s 8-year-old daughter, and that Coltharp was married to Shaffer’s 7-year-old daughter, according to a search warrant affidavit obtained by Salt Lake Tribune.
Both are allegedly members of the Knights of the Crystal Blade, which identifies as a fundamentalist offshoot of the Mormon church. Shaffer told deputies he had been the prophet of the church — which allegedly believes in doomsday prophecies and practices polygamy — but had recently passed down the title to Coltharp.
Police began investigating on Dec. 1 after Coltharp’s ex-wife called police to report that Coltharp had allegedly kidnapped their four children, according to an Iron County Sheriff’s Office press release obtained by PEOPLE.
Coltharp was arrested at his home, but his children were not with him. On Dec. 4, police raided a compound in a remote area about one mile west of Lund, where members of the sect were living inside shipping containers.
At the compound, policed found Coltharp’s parents and his two sons, according to a press release obtained by PEOPLE.
Police learned that Shaffer was allegedly last seen with his two daughters, ages seven and five, and Coltharp’s two daughters. He had spent the previous night with the four girls in a tent near the compound, the release states.
Shortly after an AMBER Alert was issued for Coltharp’s two daughters, a tipster called police reporting they saw a white male later identified as Shaffer walking alone on a dirt road several miles west of the compound.
Shaffer was taken into custody and told police where they could find two of the girls. Deputies discovered one of Shaffer’s daughters and one of Coltharp’s daughters inside two blue plastic 50 gallon water barrels located approximately 1,000 yards south of the Coltharp property. Shaffer allegedly told police the two girls had been placed in the water barrels to hide them from law enforcement.
Police alleged the two girls had spent approximately 24 hours inside the barrel in subfreezing temperatures. “These two children were not properly dressed for the cold temperatures and did not have food or water at that time,” the release states. “Shaffer also made statements he had left a firearm behind on the ground next to the barrel.”
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Police alleged Shaffer initially refused to tell authorities the whereabouts of the remaining two girls but that he finally did. The girls were found in “poor health with signs of dehydration and acting lethargic” in an abandoned single-wide mobile trailer, police allege.
All four girls were transported by ambulance to the Cedar City hospital where they received emergency medical care.
According to the affidavit, a man who lived out of state called the Spring City Police Chief and told him that he had communicated with the two men over social media and had gone to Utah to explore the sect. He told the chief he was “forcefully” baptized into the church by Shaffer and was promised a child bride, the Tribune reports.
Shaffer was arrested and charged with two counts of kidnapping and four counts of child abuse. Coltharp was originally charged with first-degree-felony kidnapping and obstruction of justice.
It is unclear if the two men have obtained attorneys.
Preliminary hearings are scheduled for Wednesday.