When Roy Jeffs publicly accused his father, jailed polygamist cult leader Warren Jeffs, of molesting him as a child, the anguish and confusion in his voice was palpable.
“One of my earliest memories is of my dad sexually abusing me. I was 4 or 5 years old,” he told CNN in a 2015 interview. “I remember him telling me, ‘You should never do this, and then he did it to me.’”
“Father didn’t love him. [Roy] knew it,” Rachel Jeffs told the newspaper. “All of us knew it. We all got told Roy was a bad boy.”
In a Facebook post, she praised her brother for his bravery in speaking out.
“I’m proud of Roy for the courage he’s shown in being the first of my siblings to leave the FLDS cult and trying to figure out life the best he could. Roy was fun and loving and always enjoyed a good laugh. You will be remembered and missed brother!”
Warren Jeffs, 63, was the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a polygamist offshoot of Mormonism. He is serving a sentence of 20 years to life for sexual assault against two of his child brides. One of them was only 12 years old at the time.
Janetta Jessop was 16 years old she became Jeffs’ 63rd wife. “It took away my entire life,” she told the makers of the documentary Prophet's Prey.
But as Roy Jeffs and his half-sister Becky told CNN, the abuse allegedly wasn’t limited to his wives.
He said he was molested once—his father allegedly took him into a bathroom and fondled him—but it scarred him forever.
When he left the FLDS in 2014 his mother and three full siblings, who remain loyal to Warren—cut ties with him.
After growing up in such isolation, Roy had to adapt to the modern world. When he went public in 2015, he had just learned how to swim; it was forbidden when he was a child because Jeffs preached that the devil lurked in the water.
He got support from a group for those who escape polygamous sects, called Holding Out H.E.L.P., which paid tribute to him on Facebook.
In his interview with CNN, Roy Jeffs said he was hoping to one day reconcile with his mother—and even to talk to his father—though he was concerned about the sway church members were still under.
“They're so brainwashed by how my dad is, and I worry sometimes that it could end up in a mass suicide because of how much control he has,” he said.
“I would love to talk to him now,” he added. “He’s my father, I respect him for that, but ... there's a flicker of hope that if I talked to him, he’d come to his senses.”
If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.
UPDATE 6/3/19: This story has been extensively revised throughout.