AMALIA, N.M. - Authorities have identified the remains found at a desert compound in New Mexico as that of a missing Clayton County 3-year-old, the boy's grandfather told the Associated Press Thursday.
The announcement comes day after deputies raided the compound, arrested the boy's father and 4 other adults, and rescued 11 children from the site.
Clayton County Police have searched for the toddler, Abdul-ghani Wahhaj and his father, 39-year-old Siraj Wahhaj, since December. At that time, Siraj Wahhaj said he was taking the little boy to the park, but they never returned. The child's mother became concerned, especially because the little boy suffered from seizures, developmental, and cognitive delays and was unable to walk due to suffering a Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy at birth.
Sheriff’s deputies in Amalia, New Mexico found 11 hungry children in a squalid compound built along a remote plain. Two men and three women also had been living at the compound and were arrested following a raid Friday that came as officials searched for the missing Georgia boy with severe medical issues.
Authorities found the child’s remains on Monday on what would have been his fourth birthday. Medical examiners confirmed Abdul-ghani Wahhaj’s identity on Thursday.
Siraj Wahhaj was among those arrested in the compound raid that has since resulted in the series of startling revelations on the outskirts of Amalia, a tiny town near the Colorado state line marked by scattered homes and sagebrush. Authorities said they found the father armed with multiple firearms, including an assault rifle.
Prosecutors said in court documents obtained Wednesday Wahhaj was conducting weapons training with assault rifles at the compound, training youngsters to commit school shootings.
Also on Wednesday, Wahhaj, 40, along with his close relative Lucas Allen Morton, 40, and his wife Subhanah, 35, Jany Leveille, 35, Hujrah Wahhaj, 38, one-by-one appeared before a New Mexico judge, all charged with 11 counts of abuse of a child.
Wahhaj was also charged with child abduction out of Clayton County. Morten was also charged with harboring a fugitive. Wahhaj did not enter a plea on the child abuse charges.
Prosecutors did not bring up the school shooting accusation during initial court hearings Wednesday for the abuse suspects. A judge ordered them all held without bond pending further proceedings.
In the court documents, authorities said a foster parent of one of the 11 children removed from the compound had told authorities the child had been trained to use an assault rifle in preparation for a school shooting.
Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe previously said adults at the compound were “considered extremist of the Muslim belief.” He did not elaborate, saying it was part of the investigation.
Wahhaj's group arrived in Amalia in December, with enough money to buy groceries and construction supplies, according to Tyler Anderson, a 41-year-old auto mechanic who lives nearby.
Anderson said Tuesday he helped the newcomers install solar panels after they arrived but eventually stopped visiting. Anderson said he met both of the men in the group, but never the women, who authorities have said are the mothers of the 11 children, ages 1 to 15. Anderson did not recall seeing Abdul-ghani, but he said some of the smaller children from the compound turned up to play with children at neighboring properties after the group first arrived.
"We just figured they were doing what we were doing, getting a piece of land and getting off the grid," said Anderson, who moved to New Mexico from Seattle with his wife seven years ago.
As the months passed, however, they stopped seeing the smaller children playing in the area. They also stopped hearing guns fired off at a shooting range on the property, he said.
Jason Badger, who owned the property where the compound was built, said he and his wife had pressed authorities to remove the group after becoming concerned about the children. The group had built the compound on their acreage instead of a neighboring tract owned by Lucas Morton, one of the men arrested during the raid.
"I started to try and kick them off about three months ago and everything I tried to do kept getting knocked down," said Badger said.
A judge dismissed an eviction notice filed by Badger against Morton in June, court records said. The records did not provide further details on the judge's decision.
After the raid, Anderson went over and looked at the property for the first time in months.
"I was flabbergasted from what it had turned into from the last time I saw it," he said.
Authorities said the compound shielded by old tires, wooden pallets and an earthen wall studded with broken glass had been littered with "odorous trash."
The 11 children found living at the encampment - described as a small trailer embedded in the ground - had been without clean water and appeared to have not eaten in days, according to Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe.
At a news conference in Taos, Hogrefe described FBI surveillance efforts in recent months that included photographs of the compound and interviews. He said the images were shared with the mother of Abdul-ghani but she did not spot her son, and that the photographs never indicated the boy's father was at the compound.
"I had no probable cause to get a search warrant to go onto this property," the sheriff said.
He said FBI officials were invited to the news conference but declined to attend. An FBI spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Hogrefe said the "breaking point" in seeking a search warrant came when Georgia authorities received a message that may have originated within the compound that children were starving inside.
It was not clear who sent the message or how it was communicated. Georgia detectives forwarded it to the Taos County Sheriff's Office.
Authorities returned to search the compound after interviews on Friday and Saturday led them to believe the boy might still be on the property.
"We discovered the remains yesterday on Abdul's fourth birthday," Hogrefe said on Tuesday, appearing to fight back tears.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.