Prosecutors are investigating an allegation that a Georgia man and four other adults who lived with children in a squalid desert compound in New Mexico were training them to carry out school shootings, according to court documents filed on Wednesday.
Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 40, and four of his relatives were charged with child abuse this week after 11 malnourished children were discovered in a makeshift compound in northern New Mexico last week. The children, ages 1 to 15, had barely any food and no access to fresh water or basic hygiene, the authorities said.
A foster parent of one of the 11 children told the authorities that the adults had trained the child in the use of an assault rifle in preparation for carrying out school shootings, according to court documents that prosecutors filed with New Mexico’s Eighth Judicial District Court. In the documents, prosecutors requested that the judge keep Mr. Wahhaj and the other defendants in detention because they posed a threat to the children and the broader community.
At court appearances on Wednesday, all five defendants pleaded not guilty, according to court documents. The judges overseeing the cases ordered that they be detained until their next hearing.
Mr. Wahhaj was initially arrested based on a warrant from Georgia linking him to the disappearance of his 3-year-old son last December. The authorities found the decomposing body of a young boy at the compound in Amalia, N.M., on Monday, but have not positively identified it as Mr. Wahhaj’s son, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj. The boy’s fourth birthday was on Monday.
Mr. Wahhaj and the other adults are being investigated in the death of the child and on suspicion of training children with weapons to further a “conspiracy to commit school shootings,” according to the court filings. The documents offered no other details or evidence of such training.
The underground compound — built from a trailer covered in plastic — contained broken glass, hazardous wood and leaking propane, according to a criminal complaint. When the authorities raided the compound on Friday, they found Mr. Wahhaj, who was heavily armed, along with another man, and three women believed to be the children’s mothers.
All five adults at the compound were charged with 11 counts of child abuse, a third-degree felony. Each charge carries a penalty of up to three years in prison. Mr. Wahhaj also faces one count of custodial interference for “maliciously” taking his son away from his mother for a protracted period of time, according to the criminal complaint.
The other defendants were identified as Lucas Morton, 40; Jany Leveille, 35; Hujrah Wahhaj, 38; and Subhanah Wahhaj, 35. Mr. Morton was also charged with harboring a fugitive, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj.
Siraj Wahhaj’s father, who has the same name as his son, is an imam of a mosque in Brooklyn. In a Facebook post from January, Imam Wahhaj referred to three of the adults found in the compound — Siraj, Hujrah and Subhanah — as his children.
He referred to Mr. Morton as his son-in-law and Ms. Leveille as his daughter-in-law. He suggested that the children with the adults were his grandchildren.
Officials with the district attorney’s office who are handling the case did not immediately return requests for comment on Wednesday afternoon. Nor did the public defender’s office in Taos County.
The authorities started searching for Siraj Ibn Wahhaj in December after Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj’s mother told the police that his father took the child to the park and did not return, according to the Clayton County Police Department.
After getting in a single-vehicle accident in Alabama days after the boy disappeared, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj told the authorities that they were on their way to New Mexico for a camping trip, along with five other children and two adults.
The boy’s mother told the police that Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj had developmental and cognitive delays, experienced seizures and was unable to walk because of a brain disorder. The mother, Hakima Ramzi, desperately pleaded for help finding her son in a video posted to Facebook in January.
Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe of Taos County, whose officers had been investigating the compound along with F.B.I. and Georgia detectives, said that when they raided the compound on Friday, they found a “filthy” place with no indoor plumbing, no electricity and trash scattered around. The children wore rags and looked as if they had not eaten in days, Sheriff Hogrefe said.
Prosecutors said in court filings that the compound, which is in a mountainous area about 10 miles south of New Mexico’s border with Colorado, contained wood with nails sticking up, bottles and open trenches.