A severely disabled Georgia boy who authorities say was kidnapped by his father and marked for an exorcism was found buried at the ramshackle compound in the New Mexico desert that has been the focus of investigators for the past week, the toddler’s grandfather said Thursday.
New Mexico authorities, however, said they had yet to identify the remains, discovered Monday. And prosecutors said they were awaiting word on the cause of death before deciding on any charges.
The boy, Abdul-ghani Wahhaj, would have turned 4 Monday. Prosecutors said he was snatched from his mother in December in Jonesboro, Ga., near Atlanta.
The search for him led authorities to New Mexico, where 11 hungry children and a youngster’s remains were found in recent days at a filthy compound shielded by old tires, wooden pallets and an earthen wall studded with broken glass.
The missing boy’s grandfather, Siraj Wahhaj, a Muslim cleric who leads a well-known New York City mosque, told reporters he had learned from other family members that the remains were his grandson’s.
The imam said he did not know the cause of death.
“Whoever is responsible, then that person should be held accountable,” Wahhaj said.
In an interview with WSB-TV in Atlanta, the boy’s mother also called for “justice” as she described how her life had been taken from her after her son was abducted by his father, which she said was out of character for him. She and Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, the imam’s son, had been married almost 14 years.
“I wasn’t able to save my son,” she told the television station.
In Facebook messages, Naeemah Rashid, Ramzi’s sister-in-law, told The Associated Press that she, too, was surprised by Wahhaj’s actions, saying he had always valued the closeness of their family.
Rashid also recalled from Atlanta the deep bond between the boy and his mother, who couldn’t leave the room without him crying.
While the boy could not walk, Rashid remembers that he smiled and laughed as he watched his cousins play.
“Of course this is a hard time for her,” Rashid said of the mother.
Ramzi, who is from Morocco, filed for divorce in December – the same month neighbors say Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and others arrived in Amalia, N.M.
A Georgia arrest warrant accused him of kidnapping his child. Authorities said the father at some point told his wife he wanted to perform an exorcism on the boy, who suffers seizures and requires constant attention because of a lack of oxygen and blood flow at birth.
The child’s father was among five adults arrested on suspicion of child abuse in the raid at the compound. In court papers, prosecutors also said Wahhaj had been training children there to carry out school shootings.
Speaking at his Brooklyn mosque, the elder Wahhaj said he had no knowledge of any such training.
The elder Wahhaj also said all 11 of the children, age 1 to 15, were either his biological grandchildren or members of his family through marriage.
“I’m very concerned with the condition of my grandchildren,” he said.
He said he didn’t understand why his son had taken the family and disappeared into the desert, but suggested a psychiatric disorder was to blame.