The arrests of four members of a Manitoba Mennonite community on allegations of child abuse have shocked several people who have knowledge of the small, isolated community.

Three men and one woman have been charged with assault and assault with a weapon, and dozens of children were removed by child and family services officials earlier this week.

"I was quite shocked, surprised … I never thought that of them at all," a farmer who used to live down the road from the Mennonite families told CBC News on Thursday.

CBC News cannot identify the community where the arrests occurred, due to a court-imposed publication ban on the identities of the children involved.

"When they first moved here, I hauled them around for buying more livestock and horses, and those are the two that are taken away," the farmer said of the families.

RCMP cruisers were seen parked near the community's entrance on Thursday. Police would only say they were still conducting an active investigation in the area.

Court documents allege that a cattle prod and a strap were involved in the assaults, which allegedly took place between July 2011 and January of this year.

While officials say at least 23 children were apprehended, people in the area told CBC News that upwards of 35 children were taken and placed in homes across Manitoba.

Court documents indicate that the youngest child is less than a year old, and the oldest is 17 years old.

'A lot of heartache'

Randy Fehr, a pastor whose parishioners knew some of the families involved in the arrests, said the incident is unexpected and sad.

"Just one of the stories that I heard about involved a young family whose kids were taken, and that included a child that was a nursing infant," Fehr said.

He added that there has been "a lot of heartache for the mom to not know where her little child was going."

The CBC's Jill Coubrough visited one home where at least five of the displaced children were staying, but their caregivers declined comment.

Another set of foster parents said they and a number of other caregivers were brought in by child and family services officials from an Ontario Mennonite community to help with a language barrier.

All four of the arrested adults have been released from RCMP custody on bail, but none of them can have contact with anyone under the age of 18 without approval from child welfare officials.

There is no indication of whether any of the children have been returned home, but one man told CBC News that the parents still have visitation rights.

Numerous members of the community were contacted, and all said they are not yet ready to talk about what happened.