Attempt to get all family members out unsuccessful

Abilene Reporter-News
By Brian Bethel

A Maryland man's attempts to extract family members from the House of Yahweh's compound near Eula Saturday ended in a stalemate.

David Richardson, seeking to retrieve his wife and 14-year-old daughter, approached the gates of the compound in the early afternoon but eventually left without seeing either family member.

A series of tense moments erupted when Richardson and news media arrived outside the gates with House of Yahweh members refusing to offer any comment about the compound, a Passover feast going on inside, Richardson's wife, Bonnie, or his daughter.

In an earlier foray into the compound, Richardson retrieved his two sons, ages 12 and 6, from the complex's interior.
Video camera-wielding members of the sect took photographs of everything from news vehicles to Richardson arguing with other members of the group.

A Callahan County sheriff's deputy arrived on the scene shortly after the initial confrontation, speaking briefly to both sect members and Richardson before ushering Richardson into his patrol vehicle.

After a brief consultation with the deputy, Richardson planned to enter the compound to see his wife and daughter. Later in the day, he said his attempt had met with failure.

"They wouldn't let me on the grounds," he said. "I'm taking this pretty hard."
Attempts to contact the deputy through the Callahan County Sheriff's Department were unsuccessful.

Richardson, a former member of the sect, said he didn't attempt to obtain a court order before trying to retrieve his family because he didn't think he "would have to go to that extreme."
"I don't want to divorce my wife" or sunder his family, he said. "Not at this point."
Richardson said his next step was to contact the FBI with information about the sect, including the unsolved murder of a reported one-time Yahweh follower four years ago in South Carolina.

He said he planned to take things "day by day," possibly staying in Abilene or returning to his home in Maryland.

Richardson expressed great concern for his wife and daughter, telling guards at the gate and others assembled that he wanted them "out of here" before they could be "used" any more.
Richardson, 38, railed against Yisrayl Hawkins, a former Abilene policeman who became the spiritual father of the House of Yahweh, saying he forced sect members into lives of poverty and dependence.

"I have a 14-year-old daughter, and I don't know if they're going to have her married off before long," Richardson said. "I want her out of here before he comes up with another law" that could potentially harm her.

Bonnie Richardson recently changed her name to Biynyah Hawkins to match that of the sect's leader. More than 100 followers have requested similar name changes in recent months.
"My wife isn't aware of what they're doing to her mind," Richardson said. "(Hawkins) just uses them, and they don't see what they're doing. ... She thinks if she leaves, she'll burn in hellfire."

Yisrayl Hawkins has not yet responded to requests for interviews with the Abilene Reporter-News, despite repeated attempts. Followers at the scene refused to comment.
In the past, blanket denials of all allegations against the sect have been the rule for its members.

Tensions ran high on occasion between Richardson and guards outside the gate Saturday, with the guards attempting to maintain a calm, cool veneer.

"What type of religion does things like this?" he asked one of the guards, identified as Charlie Wilder. "You have to worship with barbed wire, guards and walkie-talkies, looking like a Gestapo unit?"

Wilder replied, "Do I look like a Gestapo?"

"Wise up, Charlie," Richardson retorted. "This place is going down."

Richardson said he didn't plan to end the quest for his family any time soon, citing his original beliefs, which he still holds, as the force that keeps him going.
"Yahweh doesn't create wimps - he creates men," he said. "The wimps are the ones in there who are hiding behind the gates."

(Senior Staff Writer Richard Horn contributed to this report.)

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