What to Know
- Abdul-ghani Wahhaj was 3 years old when he was snatched from his mother in December in Jonesboro, Georgia, near Atlanta
- A search for the child led authorities to a compound in New Mexico; remains of a small child were found there
- Authorities say a medical examiner is working to identify the remains, though Wahhaj's grandfather says they belong to his grandson
Dirty diapers, shotgun shells, small broken bicycles, the white sandal of a baby, anguished journals about faith and a DVD about killing techniques in close combat.
Ordinary and extraordinary household objects littered a squalid compound on a high-desert plain of northern New Mexico, bearing silent witness to the lives of 11 children and five adults — and perhaps one missing boy.
The settlement sprung up on the outskirts of tiny Amalia, New Mexico, last winter — as a manhunt unfolded for the father of a 3-year-old boy abducted from Georgia.
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Police raided the property a week ago in response a report of children living in filth, severe hunger and dangers including a leaky propane tank — detaining all living inhabitants.
On Monday, authorities returned with new intelligence to retrieve the body of a small boy — possibly the missing and severely disabled Georgia boy Abdul-ghani Wahhaj.
The state medical examiner has not yet identified the body, and prosecutors said they were awaiting word on the cause of death before deciding on any further charges against his father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, one of the five adults arrested at the compound.
The grandfather of the missing boy, Siraj Wahhaj, is a Muslim cleric who leads a well-known New York City mosque. He believes the body is that of Abdul-ghani. The five adults arrested at the property in Amalia include the imam's two children and a second adult daughter.
It was unclear exactly where the child's body had been concealed with the compound— or how long it had been there.
The empty dwelling, without running water or a drainage system, is arranged around a rickety camper that is half submerged in a dirty pit and surrounded by 7-foot (2-meter) berms of used tires, sections of adobe wall topped with broken glass, a junked refrigerator and other odd supplies.
An alcove shaped out of wooden shipping pallets hides a makeshift bathroom — with a toilet seat suspended above a blue plastic bucket. A pair of underpants dangled from a pole overhead.
To one side of the camper, an underground tunnel — big enough to crawl through — led in and out of the compound, which was flanked by an apparent target range. Dozens of spent casings were left behind there.
Prosecutors also have accused the adults in court documents of training children to use firearms in preparation for future school shootings, although no charges have been filed in response to the accusation that came from a new foster parent of one of the 11 children removed from the compound.
Refuse at the compound included standard ammunition as well as fake cartridges designed to help people safely learn how to load and fire a weapon.
The owner of the property, Jason Badger, on Friday prodded through a left-behind satchel of ammunition — fit for rifle, shotgun and handgun — and discarded garbage bags holding crumpled grade-school textbooks and journals lined with notes in neat cursive and the primitive doodles of children.
While touring the ramshackle living quarters littered with diesel cans, used diapers, household garbage and Qurans, he questioned why authorities did not search a squalid New Mexico compound sooner for Abdul-ghani, saying he told them in late spring that he had met the child's father at the site and that the man was wanted in Georgia for kidnapping his own son.
Badger also said he believed he saw the searched-for boy by his father's side in January, wearing a hooded jacket.
Badger said in an interview that he learned through an online search this spring that Wahhaj was wanted in the disappearance of son Abdul-ghani Wahhaj and reported his earlier encounter to law enforcement authorities in New Mexico and Georgia — and eventually to the FBI.
"If they knew about it, and then that kid died in that timeframe, when they knew, somebody has to be held accountable," Badger said.
Taos County Sheriff's Department Steve Fullendorf spokesman downplayed Badger's criticism of the investigation, saying Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe did everything he could possible under the law and had to follow certain restrictions.
"Mr. Badger doesn't have to adhere to those same restrictions," Fullendorf said. "He wants to have his 15 minutes of fame and that's fine."
Hogrefe has said the FBI put the New Mexico compound under surveillance in recent months and took photographs, but he could not initially get a warrant to enter because the images collected did not show the boy or his father.
That changed when a note was forwarded to Georgia authorities saying children inside the compound were starving, Hogrefe said.
The missing boy's grandfather said his adult daughter, who was in the compound, sent the note to a man in Georgia. That man then notified the grandfather, who said he contacted police.
The suspects are being jailed without bail in New Mexico and one of them, Lucas Morton, also faces a charge of harboring a felon. He is accused of refusing to tell authorities the younger Siraj Wahhaj's location during the compound raid. Wahhaj eventually was found armed with multiple firearms, including an assault rifle, authorities said.