Police in Anderson, Indiana, arrested the grandparents of a 15-year-old girl who was found locked in a room within their home, weighing only 40 pounds. In a shocking case of neglect and abuse, Steve Sells and his wife Joetta now both face charges of neglect of a dependent and battery. Steve Sells also faces an additional charge for criminal confinement.
Their victim was their own granddaughter. The grandparents have had custody of the teen since 2009. Steve Sells reportedly told police that custody had been granted to them because his daughter had abandoned the teen girl, who has a chromosome problem in her brain. Sells blames her medical condition for her incredibly low body weight. The grandfather admitted that he hadn’t taken the girl for a medical exam since 2012, saying that her Medicaid ran out a year ago. He says that Medicaid paid for the girl’s nutritional supplement but that she hadn’t received any of the supplement since her coverage ran out.
Police say that Sells has a full-time job and that lack of money is not a factor in how the teen girl has been treated. And even if she does have a medical condition that prevents her from gaining weight, the teen was so thin that her bones were protruding from her skin when police arrived to execute a search warrant on Monday. In fact, reports show that she weighs less than a scant forty pounds, the weight of an average five-year-old. She was also found with dried feces on her feet. The girl was immediately flown to a local children’s hospital because of her disturbing condition.
In addition to her malnutrition, the teen was also locked away in a room and kept there with inadequate heat and food. Police found a room upstairs in the grandparents’ house, with a lock at the top of the door. The room held a mattress, space heater, blankets, a bowl with oatmeal in it, and a bucket. According to court documents, police noticed that there was blood on the floor and “feces on everything in the room.” Investigators carried away several brown paper bags filled with evidence from the home.
“It’s very disturbing, we wouldn’t accept treatment of an animal this way, let alone a human being,” said Detective Joel Sandefur with the Anderson Police Department.
According to another child within the home, the 15-year-old girl was locked in the room and would sometimes “stick her fingers out around the door trying to get out.” A third child in the home told police that Sells kept the girl’s door locked “during the day and nights,” and also said that the girl was left in the room without enough heat to keep warm. The child also described how Sells would pick the abused teen up by her hair and drag her.
“It’s difficult to imagine, police are also contacting neighbors and trying to get as much information as we can about how this could’ve happened and no one notice,” said Rodney Cummings, Madison County Prosecutor. Prosecutor Cummings says that the Department of Child Services asked for a court hearing in regards to the teen girl in 2011.
“Well, they had a hearing and I think they were asking for court intervention for them to be permitted to take the child out of that environment or to get services and the court did not permit that to happen at that time,” said Cummings.
A spokesperson for DCS did confirm that the agency received a report about the girl into the Indiana Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline.
When asked about why he locked the child away in a room, Steve Sells told police he locked her away “to protect himself” and claimed “she was very strong, and that he would have to squeeze (her) arm because she would approach him with a knife.”
Police noted that the girl weighs less than 40 pounds while Sells said he weighs between 200 and 225 pounds.
Children with special needs are often at a higher risk for potential abuse. One mother recently plead guilty to child abuse after trying to poison her special needs daughter. And a mother in New Jersey murdered her autistic child by throwing him off a bridge.
[Image via the Daily Mail]