Children ‘froze’ in plywood box
THE mounds of trash, old toys and furniture caught the attention of a Southern California sheriff's deputy passing through the desert earlier this week.
As he approached, he spotted a hovel cobbled together with plywood and plastic sheeting.
And then came the shocking discovery that a couple and their three children - ages 11 to 14 - had been living there for years without running water, bathrooms or electricity.
The children's mother, Mona Kirk, 51, would sleep alongside them in the ramshackle dwelling, which is only about 1.2m high and 3m wide, said Cindy Bachman, spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.
Their father, Daniel Panico, 73, slept either in a trailer on the property with dozens of cats or in another vehicle, she said.
"They were scraps of plywood that were put together and then they had a tarp over it to keep out the rain," Bachman said of the makeshift shelter on the lot near Joshua Tree, about 201 kilometers east of Los Angeles.
Inside, blankets were strewn everywhere and chairs were used to try to hold up the tarp ceiling. A makeshift kitchen was littered with empty bottles with cans of corn, peas and soup stacked on wooden shelves.
Several holes on the property were filled with feces, officials said.
The children didn't appear to have any obvious injuries and showed no outward signs of malnutrition but were undergoing medical evaluations, Bachman said.
"It was apparent they had not bathed in days," she said. "There was no running water, no electricity, no bathroom facilities."
The parents were arrested Thursday and have been charged with three counts of felony child abuse, district attorney's office spokesman Christopher Lee said.
A telephone number listed for the couple in public records was not in service.
The children were not enrolled in public school and deputies are still investigating whether they were considered enrolled in a homeschool, but there was no evidence they were being educated, Bachman said.