August 15, 2002

COLORADO CITY, Ariz.--Three weeks ago, Gregory Holm drove across Short Creek in this polygamous enclave to meet with his estranged older brother, Milton. The Holm siblings had not spoken in two years -- since religious leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) called on followers to sever ties with "apostates" and the community at large began withdrawing children from public schools.

Milton Holm and his wife, Lenore, were shunned because they refused to endorse an arranged marriage between their 16-year-old daughter and an older man. So, when Gregory Holm visited his brother, it was in the middle of the night.

"He didn't want to be seen," Milton Holm said Wednesday. "But he came in. He put his arm around me. He was friendly and we talked."

A week ago, Gregory Holm, 38, died in a plane crash with three other members of the FLDS Church. The four men were "married" to at least six women and had fathered more than 50 children, according to close family members.

On Wednesday, Milton Holm drove across Short Creek -- the dry river the town once took its name from -- to attend a memorial service for his brother and the other victims of the crash: brothers John O. Barlow, 39; Ronald O. Barlow, 49; and Michael D. Barlow, 44.

Thousands of people from Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, as well as hundreds of extended family members from across Arizona and Utah, journeyed to the twin border towns for two days of services and a funeral at the FLDS Church's sprawling chapel.

The sudden loss of four fathers in a community that is at once suspicious of outsiders and extraordinarily dependent on the company of one another, is uniquely painful, said Marianne Watson, a plural wife from Salt Lake County and cousin who attended the funeral.

"I'm sure it will be difficult," she said. "I can certainly empathize with the family and know the impact this is going to have on their lives. To lose a father figure is devastating. To lose so many is tragic."

From the barber shop to the cooperative store, all businesses along Central Street in Colorado City closed early Wednesday afternoon so town residents could pay their last respects to the four men, all of whom were born and lived in Hildale.

On sidewalks and along red-dirt roads, men, who on weekdays typically dress in jeans and modest work clothes, walked in suits. The women wore long dresses.

"It was a shocking experience having four of our most productive men taken out," said Dan Barlow, mayor of Colorado City and uncle to three of the men. "Everyone knew them."

Holm was a concrete worker, and the Barlow brothers were involved in several businesses, including trucking, family members said. Last Thursday, the four flew together to central Utah to meet with a banker.

Soon after taking off for their return trip, their single-engine plane crashed into the 12,200-foot summit of Delano Peak in the Tushar Mountains of Piute County. The accident is under investigation by the National Transportation and Safety Board.

Their bodies were recovered Friday. Burial was in the Isaac Carling Memorial Park in Colorado City after funeral services at the Leroy L. Johnson Meeting House.

"These boys were decent," said Ben Bistline of Colorado City, who has known Louis J. Barlow, father of the three brothers, since the mid-1940s. "Louis came home from the Navy when our schoolteacher was out having a baby. He came in and taught our class for a few weeks when I was in the eighth grade. He is a good man. This has got to be the worst sort of pain, for a father, for any father."

One of Louis' brothers is Sam Barlow, a former deputy town marshal who fought a five-year legal battle with the state of Arizona, which tried to revoke his law enforcement certification because he had three wives. Sam Barlow's certification was upheld in 1992. At the time, he had 36 children.

Wednesday, at the meeting house, Ian Barlow, a cousin of the three brothers, said the families are receiving assistance from the church and emotional support from neighbors.

"Any community would feel great remorse at such a loss," Ian Barlow said.

Scott Rohbock grew up with the Barlows.

"They were a bunch of good men," Rohbock said as he sat in CJ's restaurant and store in Hildale. "It's hard when your friends disappear in one day."

Colorado City and Hildale have been dominated since 1935 by polygamists who fled to the desert to live their old-style form of Mormonism.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints disavowed multiple marriages under pressure from the federal government in 1890.

With the full support of the LDS Church, Arizona authorities raided the town in 1953 and tried to break up the hundreds of illegal marriages. But widespread public scorn over the raid helped force Arizona Gov. Howard Pyle from office, and since then the practice of polygamy has remained largely unchallenged in the towns.

In recent years, the towns' combined population has swelled to more than 6,000.

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