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Violence Erupts in Miracle Valley

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The tensions that have been building for several years in Miracle Valley, Ariz., erupted again late last month when two members of the Christ Miracle Healing Center Church were killed in a shootout with police officers who attempted to serve arrest warrants to three church members for traffic violations.

Confrontations and violence have marked the unincorporated town--which is a few miles north of the Mexican border in Cochise County--since soon after 300 members of the Miracles Today Church migrated to the area from Chicago in 1979. (See Education Week, Oct. 26, 1981).

The black sect withdrew its children from a nearby public elementary school a year ago in the midst of other hostile encounters between the group and members of the surrounding community, creating an unusual ''mass truancy" problem that remains unresolved.

Education and health officials say they are still concerned about the elementary- and high-school students who are children of sect members. These students are presumed to be attending a private school set up and operated by the church, but a spokesman in the Cochise County education office said that nothing is known about the school.

There has also been concern about the health of children in the church, which espouses belief in faith healing.

Local health authorities charged that several children have died as a result of improper medical attention. The Arizona Department of Economic Security asked the Arizona Supreme Court to grant it custo-dy of seven Miracle Valley children last summer.

The court refused in July on the grounds that legal precedents prevented it from interfering with parental rights unless the lives of the children were clearly threatened.

About 20 high-school-aged students from Miracle Valley attended Buena High School in Sierra Vista last year, but this year all of them have withdrawn.

Students in Arizona are not required to attend school past the 8th grade, so the students may not be charged with truancy.

Last April, there was an incident at Buena High School involving several students from the church, said John Sinclair, superintendent of the Sierra Vista public schools.

Three nonstudents from the church came on campus and did not leave when asked to, he said. The police were called, and a fight involving students and police occurred shortly thereafter, he said. Eleven Miracle Valley students were suspended as a result.

"We didn't have many discipline problems with them before that," Mr. Sinclair said. He added that the students would have been welcome to return to school this fall.

Ray Shelton, the Cochise County superintendent, said he is still waiting for Miracle Valley leaders to provide the documentation that all parochial and private schools are required to file with county education departments under Arizona law.

Mr. Shelton said he sent all the necessary forms to the church in September but has yet to receive a reply.--ah

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