Remains found at N.M compound identified as those of missing boy

Image: Hujrah Wahhaj, Lucas Morton, Siraj Wahhaj, Subbannah Wahhaj
Defendants, from left, Hujrah Wahhaj, Lucas Morton, Siraj Wahhaj and Subbannah Wahhaj enter district court in Taos, N.M., for a detention hearing, on Aug. 13, 2018. Copyright Roberto E. Rosales The Albuquerque Journal/Pool via AP
By Phil Helsel with NBC News U.S. News
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Prosecutors have said that the boy, now identified as Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, 3, died in a religious ritual because his father thought he was possessed by demons.


Human remains found at a New Mexico compound in a raid that resulted in several arrests earlier this month have been identified as that of a missing as the son of one of the people taken into custody.

The Office of the Medical Investigator identified the remains as those of 3-year-old Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, the son of Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, who is alleged to have kidnapped the boy from Georgia in December, a spokesman for the The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center said in a statement released by the Taos County Sheriff's Office.

"Our thoughts and prayers go to Wahhaj's family," Alex Sanchez, public information officer for The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, said in the statement. "We certainly understand the heartbreak this news will cause and want to stress our commitment to investigating this death to serve the living."

Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj
Abdul-Ghani WahhajClayton County PD

Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 40, was arrested along with another man after law enforcement authoritiesraided what has been described as a compound in Amalia, which is in the northern part of the state, on Aug. 3, and three women were arrested two days later, officials have said.

The remains now confirmed to be that of the boy were found when authorities returned to the property Aug. 6. Eleven other children, ranging in ages from 1 to 15, were also found at the property.

The exact cause of Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj's death has not been determined, Thursday's statement said. The remains had been suspected to be those of the boy.

Prosecutors alleged in court on Monday that the boy died in a religious ritual conducted because Wahhaj believed he was possessed by demons.

Prosecutors said the other children were told that Abdul-ghani would be resurrected as Jesus and would identify corrupt institutions and people for them to attack, teachers, military and law enforcement officials and financial institutions. The children were given tactical training on how to clear rooms and how to shoot firearms, prosecutors alleged.

Hogrefe testified at that detention hearing that an AR-style rifle, a five-shot Smith & Wesson revolver, a 9 mm Kimber semiautomatic pistol, a 9 mm Glock pistol and body armor were found at the scene, and that in a 100-foot-long tunnel authorities found a .308-style sniper rifle, a .30-30 lever-action rifle and another Glock.


All of the adults are charged with 11 counts of child abuse. Wahhaj is also charged with interfering with a parent's custodial rights, and his brother-in-law, Lucas Allen Morton, 40, is charged with harboring a fugitive.

District Judge Sarah Backus on Monday denied prosecutors' attempts to have the five adults arrested held without bail. She said then that "the state alleges that there was a big plan afoot. But the state hasn't shown to my satisfaction, in clear and convincing evidence, what that plan was."

She allowed some of the defendants to be released on $20,000 bond and house arrest, but said they must wear ankle monitors if released.

None of the five have been released, officials said.

Defendants, from left, Hujrah Wahhaj, Lucas Morton, Siraj Wahhaj and Subbannah Wahhaj enter district court in Taos, N.M., for a detention hearing, on Aug. 13, 2018.
Defendants, from left, Hujrah Wahhaj, Lucas Morton, Siraj Wahhaj and Subbannah Wahhaj enter district court in Taos, N.M., for a detention hearing, on Aug. 13, 2018.Roberto E. Rosales

Wahhaj is being held on the outstanding warrant from Georgia related to the alleged kidnapping of his son from the boy's mother. And a 35-year-old woman originally from Haiti has been turned to the custody of federal immigration authorities, the sheriff's office said this week.

Morton and two other women remain in custody pending fulfillment of the conditions of their release, the sheriff's office has said. The Taos County Adult Detention Center said that none of those three people had been released as of Thursday evening.

The 11 children found at the property, who are believed to be the children of three women who were arrested, are in the custody of the state.

An attorney for one of the women said that the reason for the delay in her release has been concerns for her safety and trying to find a safe housing situation for her.


"The judge who issued the order in this case has received death threats, and there has been a tremendous amount of backlash," attorney Marie Legrand Miller told reporters. "We just have to be careful," she said.

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