O’FALLON, Mo. (KMOV) – A man and a woman were charged Friday after police allegedly found their 6-year-old autistic child locked in a make-shift cage in the basement of their O’Fallon, Mo. home.
Victoria and Terry Smith were both charged with first-degree endangering the welfare of a child.
The charges come more than two years after an anonymous call to a state hotline sent authorities to the O’Fallon home. Their son and his siblings were removed from their parents care, but later returned, according to court documents.
St. Charles County prosecutor Tim Lohmar did not immediately respond to a message asking for information about the delay in filing charges and why the children were later returned to the home.
The Smiths, who have since moved to Elsberry, do not have a listed phone number or an attorney on record. Both were released on personal recognizance.
Lohmar said authorities received the tip in December 2010, when the boy was 6. When police, paramedics and a case worker went to the home on Half Moon Dr., the child’s grandmother showed them to the basement, where the child was in a 3-foot-tall, 3-foot-wide and 6-foot-long crib covered with a plywood top and held together with bungee cords, tension straps and zip ties, he said.
What are you thoughts on these allegations? Share your thoughts.
Officers also found the couple’s 6-year-old autistic child sitting in urine and feces without clothes on.
The boy’s parents were shopping at the time, and his grandmother was watching him and his five siblings, 11 months old to 8 years old. Police said the grandmother was recovering from a stroke. She told officers it was difficult for her to take proper care of the children.
“We certainly understand that any parent is going to have stressful times, especially parents with severely developmentally disabled children,” Lohmar said. “But our view is that this was a completely inappropriate way to handle this particular situation.”
When the Smiths came home, they told investigators that they fashioned the cage for the boy’s protection—it was the only way to keep him from hurting himself when left alone, Lohmar said. They said they did their best to keep the cage clean and kept him naked so that he wouldn’t accidentally hang himself with clothing.
Police said other areas of the home were completely unsanitary.
They said door knobs to the children’s rooms were installed backward so they could be locked from the outside. The siblings also said they were rarely allowed to play with the victim, who they say was locked in the cage most of the time.
The children also told police they had fed the child hot dogs and chicken nuggets through the bars of the cage.