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Southern Utah is one of the most breathtaking places in the desert southwest.
There’s the delicate green that sprouts around the Virgin River. There's Monument Valley with its classic Western mesas and jutting rock spires and the wind-carved sandstone of Arches National Park.
But there is one place most people probably have never heard of, and wouldn't want to see.
Molly Oswaks, a freelance writer, wrote a piece recently for Broadly, which covers women's issues. The headline of that story is "Tiny Tombstones: Inside the FLDS Graveyard for Babies Born from Incest."
The story is about a graveyard in Hildale, Utah, not too far northeast of Las Vegas.
Hildale and its sister-city, Colorado City, Arizona, are home of the polygamous sect known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS.
“It’s beautiful but it is also very sad,” Oswaks told KNPR's State of Nevada about the twin towns, “It is in a state of disrepair in recent years.”
This was not the first time Oswaks had been to Hildale and Colorado City, but it was the first time she had found the baby cemetery.
“I was shocked by how many graves were on this plot of land,” she said, "It’s generally un-cared for, overgrown and almost hard to find. It’s not really marked even.”
She said there is a cemetery in town for adults and some children, but the one she found was just for very small babies, stillborn infants and some toddlers.
“It is an alarming number of children interred there,” Oswaks said.
She estimated the graveyard was home to hundreds of graves, some dating back to the 1950s but she really couldn't know for sure how many graves were there because not all of the graves were marked.
While Oswaks found the graves, finding the causes of deaths for so many babies would be impossible. Oswaks does point out that many genetic problems arise when people who are closely related have children together.
Everything from cleft palates to serious heart valve problems can be caused by inbreeding. In Short Creek, Oswaks says those conditions are much more prevalent than they should be for its population size. Plus, there is a condition almost exclusively found in the area.
“Within this community there is also a condition called fumarase deficiency which is pretty much unique to the FLDS," she said, "They have an abnormally high rate of this genetic condition.”
The condition leads to severe mental disabilities along with physical deformities and seizures.
Oswaks said very few people in the church would talk to her. Only people who had left the church would even speak with her. She actually found the cemetery while talking to a former member, who was guiding her around by phone.
Oswaks said the twin towns are like a "ghost town with signs of life." She said many people have been kicked out of the church, but have no money to leave and start a new life somewhere else, making it seem like a refugee camp with dilapidated houses instead of tents.
There is also a group of people singled out to be part of the elite United Order, while others were not.
“It feels very much like two towns sitting on top of each other," she explained, "One is this very sad place with oppressed people. Families that have been ripped apart who don’t know where their sisters or brothers or children, fathers, mothers are. And then there is this other town sitting on top of itself, with people who have left, who are starting a new life over who are trying to move on and do great things.”
Molly Oswaks, freelance writer
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