Local News

Families search for answers after children taken from Godwin's McCollum Ranch

Posted December 26, 2018 5:48 p.m. EST
Updated December 26, 2018 7:01 p.m. EST

— After five children were removed from a Cumberland County compound just days before Christmas, their families are searching for answers.

The McCollum Ranch in Godwin is named for John McCollum, who led his own “alternative religious group” which operated several John C’s Fish Markets and mobile grills in Cumberland County. Adults in the group were charged with forcing children of group, some as young as nine years old, to work full time in the fish markets with little or no compensation, lifting heavy boxes, keeping fish iced, cutting fish and cleaning, as well as performing construction and maintenance on the mobile grills after hours, authorities said.

McCollum and nine others were arrested in January, following an 11-month investigation. He was charged with operating a continuing criminal enterprise, involuntary servitude of a minor, obtaining property by false pretense and conspiracy.

But on Friday at the ranch, Gwendolyn Hall said she was watching her grandchildren while their mother was at a job interview.

Hall said 30 minutes after her daughter, the children's mother Adrieanna Hall, left, armed sheriff's deputies and DSS workers conducted a raid at her home. However, Sheriff Ennis Wright said it was not a raid. He said the operation was planned by the Department of Social Services and that his deputies were there at DSS's request.

"As I get there, it's a lot of police, bulletproof vests on," said Adrieanna Hall. "They were surrounding my mother's home where she resides with guns and everything."

Gwendolyn Hall said she tried to explain that the children did not live there, but the children were taken. Hall said no one showed her a court order or any paperwork that allowed for their removal.

During the raid, Adrieanna Hall went to her Dunn apartment to get her lease to prove to the authorities that the children did not live at the ranch. Still, she says, a DSS worker refused to honor it and took the children anyway.

Now, Gwendolyn and Adrieanna Hall have no idea where their loved ones are.

"I have no idea where my grandson is. I don't know if he's well. I don't know about my granddaughter, she's only 18-months old," Gwendolyn Hall said. "We have no idea. They didn't give us no phone number or nothing. They haven't called us."

Attorney Allen Rogers, who represents the family, said that children were removed from the farm during the initial investigation 17 months ago, but things have changed since then.

"We are working with law enforcement to ensure the safety of any children who may be located at McCollum Ranch. When children are removed from a home due to child protective services concerns, parents/caregivers will be given an opportunity to appear in juvenile court as it relates to the allegations noted in the petition filed by our agency," said Brenda Jackson, the county DSS director.

The Hall family was told to be at the Cumberland County Courthouse on Thursday morning. They hope to get some answers.