New information in Utah kidnapping case; missing girls found hidden inside 50-gallon barrels

John Coltharp (left). Photo: Sanpete County Jail. Samuel Shaffer (right). Photo: Iron County Sheriff's Office

IRON COUNTY, Utah, Dec. 5, 2017 (Gephardt Daily) — Iron County officials have obtained search warrants for three locations in the investigation of the alleged kidnapping of Dinah and Hattie Coltharp.

In a news release late Tuesday, the Iron County Sheriff’s Office said an FBI forensic team is assisting in the collection of evidence in the case.

An Amber Alert was issued, and the two girls were found after an intensive search in a remote part of southern Utah.

Samuel Warren Shaffer, 34, the self-professed prophet of a so-called doomsday group known as Knights of the Crystal Blade, has been arrested and faces two felony counts of kidnapping and four felony counts of child abuse. During an interview, Shaffer said he had turned over the position of Prophet to the girls’ father, Johnathan Coltharp.

Coltharp is currently in Sanpete County Jail on charges of kidnapping and obstruction of justice.

Investigators said Dinah Coltharp, 8, and her sister, Hattie, 4, were taken from their Sanpete County home by their father in September. Their two brothers, William, 7, and Seth, 6, and their grandparents, Keith and Catherine Coltharp, traveled with them.

Authorities say their father took the children and grandparents to San Juan County, where they joined the Knights of the Crystal Blade.

Officials said they were unable to act at the time because Coltharp was married to the children’s mother, and he had parental rights. Since then, the mother divorced Coltharp and was awarded full custody of the children.

According to the latest news release, on Friday, Dec. 1, the Iron County Sheriff’s Office received court documents from Micha Coltharp regarding her four biological children.

“Micha believed her children were in the Iron County area somewhere near Beryl junction about 30 miles west of Cedar City,” the release says. That wasn’t enough information, though, for deputies to find the children.

On Sunday evening, ICSO received a tip that Keith and Catherine Coltharp were in a remote area of northern Iron County about a mile west of Lund.

Deputies went there and found the Coltharps’ vehicle “at a compound made up of shipping containers. It appeared as though people were living in the shipping containers at that time.”

On Monday, at about 11:15 a.m., a vehicle was seen leaving the compound area. Deputies made a traffic stop and made contact with Keith Coltharp.

It was determined that two of the children — Seth and William Coltharp — were at the compound with Catherine Coltharp.

The boys were taken into custody as directed in the court order, and later transported to the Cedar City area, where they were given a medical check up and then interviewed.

Investigators determined that Samuel Shaffer was last seen with Dinah and Hattie Coltharp. He also had his two biological children — Lily, 7, and Samantha, 5 — with him.

Shaffer was believed to have left the compound on foot sometime after 4 p.m. Sunday. It was reported that he spent the previous night with all four girls in a tent on or near the property, the release states.

Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft were deployed to help search the area, and an Amber Alert was issued for the two Coltharp girls.

About two hours later, someone who heard the Amber Alert called to report a man walking alone on the dirt road several miles west of the compound.

When deputies responded to the area, they found Shaffer, and he was taken into custody without incident.

Shaffer then gave law enforcement a general location of two of the girls.

Deputies went to the area and found Lily Shaffer and Hattie Coltharp inside two blue, plastic 50-gallon water barrels. Shaffer said they had been put in the barrels to conceal them from law enforcement.

“At this time it appears the children had spent approximately 24 hours inside the barrels in subfreezing temperatures. These two children were not properly dressed for the cold temperatures and did not have food or water at that time. Shaffer also made statements he had left a firearm behind on the ground next to the barrel,” the release says.

Shaffer initially refused to tell authorities where Dinah Coltharp and Samantha Shaffer were.

The Utah Department of Public Safety helicopter came on scene to help with the search. Gold Cross Ambulance and Intermountain Life Flight helicopter were also called. Approximately 20 law officers began a search for Samantha and Dinah.

After about an hour, Shaffer finally gave officers a location for the girls, and they were found in an abandoned single-wide mobile home.

The release says the girls were in poor health, dehydrated and lethargic.

All four girls were brought to the command center to be checked by medical personnel. They were then taken by ambulance to the Cedar City hospital, where emergency medical care was provided.

“The youngest child: Samantha Shaffer has since been flown by Life Flight helicopter to Primary Children’s Hospital due to her condition. Her condition is unknown at this time. The other three children have been released from the hospital,” the release states.

The investigation is ongoing.


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