The foster parents of an 11-year-old boy were arrested and have been charged with child abuse, false imprisonment and animal cruel after police found the boy handcuffed by his ankles to a porch with a dead chicken hanging around his neck.
Wanda Sue Larson and Dorian Lee Harper, both 57, were arrested at their home in Monroe, North Carolina on Friday (Nov 15) and were hauled off to jail in Union County, where they were held on a bond of more than $1 million ($525K for the former and $500K for the latter).
A deputy was responding to an animal services complaint about pigs roaming at a neighboring property earlier that day when he saw the child shivering and chained to the porch.
According to WBTV, he approached the house and was confronted by Harper, who was then asked for his identification and to explain what the hell was going on.
As Harper and the deputy conversed, another child of the home released a pack of large dogs who attacked him and chased him back to his patrol car.
By the time the deputy had the dogs under control, Harper had already removed the child from the porch and left the dead chicken on a barrel in front of the house.
When other officers arrived on the scene, they searched the house, where they found four other children, aged between eight and 14-years-old. Investigators later discovered that the other four children had been adopted.
All five of the children were immediately removed from the home and taken into the custody of Social Services outside of the county. Harper, an emergency room nurse at the local hospital, was arrested on the spot.
And though Larson, who is a supervisor at the county’s Child Protective Services office, wasn’t home when the child was discovered, she was arrested on account of her being “complicit” in the mistreatment, sheriff’s officials said. She was also charged with willful failure to discharge her duty as a public official.
Law enforcement officials say the “family” was living in squalor and describe the conditions of the home as “terrible,” covered in feces, urine and garbage, and something “You wouldn’t want to walk through, much less live in.”
Authorities were also shocked to find dozens of chickens, turkeys, geese, two llamas and a horse, among other random animals, roaming all around the dilapidated dwelling.
“It’s just shocking,” Captain Ronnie Whitaker said on Saturday. “It’s just disturbing that anyone would treat a child in such a manner.”
Eddie Cathey, Sheriff of Union County, said that the couple would also handcuff the children overnight to a three-foot piece of railroad to stop them from running away.
Cathey also revealed that all of the children slept on the floor in one room, and that the home had an overwhelming smell of urine and feces. “As bad as you think that house was on the outside, that’s probably the cleanest part of that place,” Sheriff Cathey said, according to WCNC.
“It was filthy, feces on the floor, holes in the wall,” he told MyFox8.com. “The bathroom, you could see from outside of the hall into the bathroom. Sink was trashed. No running water. The smell took your breath away.”
All five of the children were exhibiting symptoms of malnutrition and Cathey said the first thing police did for them was buy them some pizza.
Locals describe the family, who live on a secluded property, as “reclusive.”
One of their neighbors Gene Wallace, who lives across the street, told WCNC, “Pigs, donkeys, llamas, the whole gamut. If we complain about their animals being on our property they get mad or they won’t come to the door when you go over there.”
Joyce Bigham, who also lives across the street, told the Associated Press the five children “dressed like orphans” and that the 11-year-old boy “looked pitiful.”
“My husband and I discussed it a lot, how we really felt bad for the kids because any time we’d ever see them, their clothes, they looked pitiful,” she said.
Another one of their neighbors, Steve Mills spoke with the Charlotte Observer and described an eerie encounter with one of the boys, presumably the foster child (the 11-year-old), who approached their houses begging for food:
Mills said a boy came running up to his home in late July or early August, “crying and panicking, and said, ‘Mister, can I have something to eat?’”
He said his wife was going to make him a sandwich when two other boys arrived. “They told me he was the newest one (and) said they were going to take him back.”
Mills knew the other boys from the Harper-Larson home: “All the boys come up on our land and play in an old building with rusted tools in it.”
The only time he has spoken with Larson, he said, was when he called to tell her to make them stop doing that: “It’s dangerous, and my son and I do target practice” on the Millses’ 4 acres.
“She said she would take care of it. She did – for a few weeks. Then they started again.”
This boy “was real small. He looked the smallest one out of the bunch. … We just assumed he was kind of scared, (being in a) new house, new area, new siblings.”
Another neighbor, who asked not to be named, said a boy appeared on her porch in May 2012 “purple with cold, with no coat, saying he was hungry.” He said he had no mother or no father and didn’t know where he lived.
She brought him inside and fed him a sandwich: “It didn’t take him 10 seconds to eat it,” she said.
He told her he was 10 years old, and that he had slept in her barn, behind her house, the night before. When she told him she would take him home, she said, he answered: “No. I want to stay here.”
Her daughter called 911, she said, and a sheriff’s deputy came out, spoke with the boy, made a phone call, then told him she’d take him home. “He didn’t refuse. He just went with her.”
The neighbor said the deputy let her know she had returned him to his foster parents and said the man insisted the boy hadn’t been missing more than 30 minutes.
The neighbor believes it was the Harper-Larson home. “I know that’s where she took him (although) you can’t see the house from the road.”
Union ounty officials have called for a state investigation, requesting a probe by the N.C. Division of Social Services into all aspects of the case, as well as how the county handles adoptions, foster care and child-abuse investigations.
Sheriff Cathey told the Observer that he has never seen a case like this and that his department will deliver a thorough investigation. “I can promise you it’s not going to end here,” Cathey said. “How did these adoptions take place? Do we have safeguards in place to keep this from happening again?”