The 15 children who vanished from a Mexico City children's shelter in 2008 run by a small evangelical sect had been given away to church members, according to Mexican authorities.
Earlier this month, prosecutors announced that they had located 12 of the children who had disappeared after three of them showed up at their offices in Puebla state. The shelters, known as Casitas del Sur (Little Houses of the South,) were founded by Iglesia Cristiana Restaurada (Restored Christian Church), a cult that reportedly runs shelters in at least seven other Mexican states and overseas. Children had been placed in the shelters "by child welfare authorities to house children from broken families or whose parents were temporarily unable to care for them," according to the AP.
But instead of providing a sanctuary for the children, the Mexican Attorney General's office said that RCC had allowed the children to be illegally adopted and reportedly "brainwashed" by the church.
Religion expert Bernardo Barranco said the sect manipulated the government into believing that it was offering a charitable service to at-risk children.
"The Casitas del Sur were just a facade for an ambitious indoctrination project ... to take children who were defenseless, trusting, blank slates, who would believe everything the sect told them," said Barranco.
When authorities had raided the shelter they encountered terrified children: "[They found] kids didn't want to come out, they didn't want to see the daylight or have contact with people, because the world was full of perversion, it was bad, they were afraid," reported Barranco.
The case first drew the attention of authorities when 10-year-old Ilse Michael disappeared and was not found when police raided a Casitas del Sur shelter in 2009. Michael returned to her family after six years last month.
Children's rights activist and lawyer Margarita Griesbach told the AP that the Mexican government has done little to prevent a similar incident from occurring again and in fact bears part of the blame for the incident happening in the first place because they did not follow legal procedure, said Griesbach.
"Today, the staffing and the procedures for the care of children in the government's temporary shelter continue to create conditions that make another Casitas del Sur case possible," said Griesbach, who legally represented one of the families of the missing children for a time.