Authorities have identified the body of a boy found at a New Mexico compound as Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, a missing 3-year-old whose father is accused of abducting him in November, according to the state’s Office of the Medical Investigator.
“Our thoughts and prayers go to Wahhaj’s family,” Alex Sanchez, a spokesperson for the office, said in a statement. “We certainly understand the heartbreak this news will cause and want to stress our commitment to investigating this death to serve the living.”
The boy’s decomposed remains were discovered a few days after authorities first raided the makeshift compound on August 3 and discovered 11 emaciated children wearing rags and no shoes.
“The condition of the body made identification difficult,” Sanchez said, “and investigators had to use several means to finally make a positive identification.”
The Office of the Medical Investigator did not provide any information regarding the cause or manner of death.
Abdul-Ghani, who would have turned 4 the day his body was discovered, had been missing since November, when his father, 40-year-old Siraj Wahhaj, is accused of taking him from his mother in Jonesboro, Georgia, saying they were going to a park.
They never returned.
New Mexico authorities suspected the boy and his father were at the compound after learning about the abduction in May, according to the Taos County sheriff, but didn’t have enough evidence for a search warrant.
That changed when they received a tip about possible starving children on the compound, the sheriff said, prompting the raid this month. But when police found the 11 malnourished children living in a squalid trailer, Abdul-Ghani was not among them. The remains were found a few days later.
Wahhaj was one of five adults found at the compound in Amalia, New Mexico, including one woman who was considered his “Muslim wife,” his two sisters, and another man.
Each of the adults has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of child abuse for the treatment of the children, who ranged in age from 1 to 15 and are in state custody.
Boy died as part of a religious ritual, prosecutor says
New Mexico prosecutors said Abdul-Ghani — who, according to his mother, suffered from seizures and needed constant medical attention — had died in a religious ritual meant to cast out demonic spirits.
His body was washed several times, wrapped in sheets and buried in the compound, prosecutor John Lovelace said in pretrial detention hearings this week. The family believed the boy would return as Jesus four months later and tell his family which of society’s institutions were corrupt and needed to be done away with, a witness said.
The children who were found in the complex shared information about Abdul-Ghani’s death with investigators, Lovelace added.
An attorney for Wahhaj has said public perception is skewed because of the five suspects’ race and religion.
“If these were white Christians, faith healing is of no consequence because we have freedom of religion in this country,” said Thomas Clark. “But they look different and they worship differently from the rest of us.”
Hakima Ramzi, Abdul-Ghani’s mother, said her son suffered from hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, a relatively rare complication affecting infants that prevents adequate blood flow to the brain and can cause mental retardation, epilepsy or cerebral palsy by age 2, according to the National Institutes of Health.
According to court testimony, the children were being trained to use firearms.