Two Utah girls have been found safely three months after they were kidnapped by their father, a cult member who betrothed the little girls to the leader of the sect, a self-identified "prophet."
Earlier this week, authorities found Hattie Briella Coltharp, 4, and Dinah Elizabeth Coltharp, 8, in a sect compound outside Lund following a tip, FOX13 Salt Lake City reported. Samuel Warren Shaffer, 34, who calls himself the prophet of a polygamous sect named "Knights of the Crystal Blade," was subsequently arrested.
The children's father, John Coltharp, 33, is a member of the sect, his former wife told police.
"They are with a man that calls himself Samuel 'The Seer,'" Micha Soble, the girls' mother, said. "His name is Samuel Warren Shaffer and he believes he holds the keys of this dispensation and he has been many people throughout the history of time and that he has been reincarnated. They are following his prophecies and I believe he is with them and helping hide the children."
The discovery of the children came days after Coltharp was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and child abuse. At the time, he refused to tell authorities the girls' location, even after they offered to release him on his own recognizance if he provided the information. He's now being held on $50,000 bail and no formal charges have been filed.
Soble's attorney also told the Salt Lake Tribune her ex-husband "stated, according to [Soble's] understanding, that he would rather see the kids dead than with the police." Family members also told the Denver Post they believe Coltharp had given his daughters to Shaffer for marriage.
Coltharp, who was excommunicated from the Mormon Church because of his extreme beliefs, is a survivalist and "doomsday prepper" who doesn't believe in modern medicine. He, along with other cult members, practice alternative healing methods, including treating illnesses with magnets, according to court documents.
His ex-wife also said Coltharp carried a pistol and threatened to send a police officer or child care worker "to the next life" if they took away his children.
Lt. Del Schlosser of the Iron County Sheriff's Office said the Amber Alert system "was key in locating Mr. Shaffer and recovering the girls."
"They were in good conditions," Schlosser said, adding that they were cold and hungry before they were taken to a local hospital for medical evaluations.
"They were shaken, but as they got warmer, they became much more calm and talkative," he said.
The word "cult" is defined by Merriam-Webster as "a small religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or dangerous."
Evangelist Billy Graham has warned that while some cults are blatantly anti-Christian, others are far more dangerous, as they closely resemble a church and claim to promote the teachings of Jesus Christ while actually denying some of the Bible's' most important teachings.
"Let me suggest three questions or guidelines you might find helpful in evaluating this group," he wrote. "First, what do they believe about the Bible? Is it alone the Word of God (as Christians affirm)-or do they add to it, or claim they alone have translated it correctly?"
Second, he urged people to ask, "What does this religious group believe about Jesus?"
"Is He alone the divine Son of God, sent from Heaven to save us from our sins?" Graham asked. "Or do they deny this, or claim we must work to save ourselves?"
Third, it's important to ask, "What do such groups believe about other Christians? Do they claim that they, and they alone, have the truth-or do they rejoice that God is also at work elsewhere?"