Investigators worked Tierra Blanca Ranch case for months

Posted at: 10/11/2013 10:25 PM
Updated at: 11/03/2014 9:13 PM
By: Erica Zucco, KOB Eyewitness News 4

This was the first time investigators served a search warrant like this at Tierra Blanca Ranch. The warrant would let police question the boys and would allow New Mexico's Children, Youth and Families Department to remove them if needed. But the case isn't new – they've been working it for than half a year.

State police had gotten dozens of abuse accusations about the ranch over the years, but they had a tough time finding current victims to verify those claims. Friday added more questions to a case that already has a lot left unanswered.

Tierra Blanca Ranch spans 30,000 acres of wilderness. Starting Friday morning, state police searched the property on foot and by helicopter, looking for kids, staff members or anyone else on site. They came up empty.

"It appeared that the place had been abandoned," Department of Public Safety Cabinet Secretary Gordon E. Eden, Jr. said.

This isn't the first challenge. For six months, the state poured time and manpower into wading through claims of abuse at the ranch, but hit roadblocks.

"When we've gone out there there's been a lack of cooperation from people we've interviewed to substantiate the claims that were provided to us," Eden said.

But in the last three weeks, police piled up enough evidence to get a judge to sign off on a search warrant. The warrant would have allowed police to talk to the kids themselves – if they'd been there. Now, they have another mission to complete before they can find out whether parents who send teens here are sending them somewhere safe.

"They may be troubled. They may have a prior history of drug abuse," Eden said. "They may have a history of aggravated assault, battery, those types of things - but are you sending them to a better place?"

The ranch is in a remote location and much of the land is wilderness. Investigators say that's part of what makes it tough to monitor, and DPS officials believe it's helping owner Scott Chandler "operate outside the limits of the law."

Chandler is a person of interest, but has not been charged with anything.

Continuing Coverage:

Amber Alert issued for missing ranch children
Ranch owner's mother gives conflicting information
Search continues for missing kids and ranch owner
Investigators worked Tierra Blanca Ranch case for months
KOB investigates reports of abuse at Tierra Blanca Ranch