O’Fallon, MO – Terry Smith, 43, and Victoria Smith, 42, formerly of O’Fallon, Missouri — now living near Elsberry — were each charged Friday with one felony count of first-degree endangering the welfare of a child. Bail was set at $2,500 for each defendant.
The charges levied against the couple originated from an anonymous call made on December 15, 2010 to the Missouri Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline. The unnamed tipster revealed the Smiths were keeping their autistic 6-year-old son in a makeshift cage in their basement.
After receiving the tip, police and authorities with the state Division of Family Services descended upon the Smith residence at the 1300 block of Half Moon Drive. The boy’s 69-year-old grandmother, who was recovering from a recent stroke, explained to police she was keeping an eye on her six grandchildren. The children in the home ranged in ages from 11 months to 8 years.
Authorities requested to see the 6-year-old and were led to the basement stairs. The child was found naked, sitting inside a modified metal crib. The cage-like bed was covered in plywood and held together with bungee cords and zip ties.
The cage measured approximately three-feet tall, three-feet wide, and six-feet long. The bedding inside was soaked in urine and feces. It took an extraordinary effort to release the child from confinement, as the crib was difficult to dismantle.
Reports indicate the smell emanating from the basement was near unbearable, and the overall conditions of the home were equally unsanitary. Bedroom doorknobs were installed backwards, locking from the outside. This enabled the grandmother to lock the other children in their rooms whenever they became disobedient. Siblings told police they were rarely permitted to play with their brother and that he was frequently caged.
The parents had been out shopping and did not return for several hours. When confronted with authorities, the Smiths explained the cage was intended to prevent the child from harming himself and that they labored to keep it clean. The child was naked because they were concerned he would accidentally hang himself otherwise.
Disturbingly, the family’s caseworker from the Department of Mental Health had known about the crib for at least six months and had reported it to supervisors. She was told it was utilized onlywhen the child slept.
The caseworker had urged the Smiths to place the child in a residential home due to his severe autism, feeling the family was ill-equipped to handle his condition. However, the parents wanted to keep their family together as long as they could manage.
The Smiths’ son was taken into temporary protective custody but was ultimately released back to his parents.
Police followed up the next day and found the home in proper order.
The then-acting county prosecutor Jack Banas did not file charges against the couple. However, additional evidence has since been uncovered provoking St. Charles County Prosecutor Tim Lohmar to pick up where the case left off in March 2011. Amended police reports claimed Banas declined to file charges based on the information provided by the caseworker. It was understood the DMH was aware of the bed-like containment and had seemingly approved of its use.
Although sympathetic to the overwhelmed parents of the autistic child, Lohmar couldn’t in good conscience permit child neglect, abuse, and endangerment to go unresolved.